The Catholic ESV Lectionary?
It now seems that the Roman Catholic Churches in Ireland, Britain, and Australia are heading towards using a modified version of the ESV for their new lectionary.
How did this happen? Here is the story:
In 2003, The Catholic Conferences of Australia, England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland formed an International Commission for the Preparation of an English-language Lectionary (ICPEL) to prepare a new lectionary. The plan was to adapt the the NRSV, a translation that had substantial Catholic involvement. Passages that appeared in lectionary would need to be adapted to the to the 2001 Vatican instruction called Liturgiam Authenticam. This adaptation is no small matter. Among the requirements of Litugriam Authenticam:
- “If the biblical translation from which the Lectionary is composed exhibits readings that differ from those set forth in the Latin liturgical text, it should be borne in mind that the Nova Vulgata Editio is the point of reference as regards the delineation of the canonical text. Thus, in the translation of the deuterocanonical books and wherever else there may exist varying manuscript traditions, the liturgical translation must be prepared in accordance with the same manuscript tradition that the Nova Vulgata has followed.” (This is no small matter, because the Neo-Vulgate’s Deuterocanon has a very different textual basis than most other translations.)
- “The effort should be made to ensure that the translations be conformed to that understanding of biblical passages which has been handed down by liturgical use and by the tradition of the Fathers of the Church, especially as regards very important texts such as the Psalms and the readings used for the principal celebrations of the liturgical year; in these cases the greatest care is to be taken so that the translation express the traditional Christological, typological and spiritual sense, and manifest the unity and the inter-relatedness of the two Testaments.” (The NRSV’s translation is based on the original Hebrew text, and is not necessarily “Christological.”)
- “In many languages there exist nouns and pronouns denoting both genders, masculine and feminine, together in a single term. The insistence that such a usage should be changed is not necessarily to be regarded as the effect or the manifestation of an authentic development of the language as such. Even if it may be necessary by means of catechesis to ensure that such words continue to be understood in the “inclusive” sense just described, it may not be possible to employ different words in the translations themselves without detriment to the precise intended meaning of the text, the correlation of its various words or expressions, or its aesthetic qualities. When the original text, for example, employs a single term in expressing the interplay between the individual and the universality and unity of the human family or community (such as the Hebrew word ’adam, the Greek anthropos, or the Latin homo), this property of the language of the original text should be maintained in the translation. Just as has occurred at other times in history, the Church herself must freely decide upon the system of language that will serve her doctrinal mission most effectively, and should not be subject to externally imposed linguistic norms that are detrimental to that mission.” (In other words, gender-neutral language is not permitted.)
Now as onerous as this task might seem, it has been successfully done with the NRSV. The (Anglophone) Canadian lectionary is based on the NRSV, and has received the approval of both the Vatican and the NRSV copyright owner, the National Council of Churches (NCC).
However, the Australian-British-Irish effort has hit some significant snags. Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, who chairs the ICPEL, writes:
Some years ago, I was asked to chair a commission which would prepare a new English-language Lectionary, using a modified form of the NRSV and a revised Grail Psalter. That seemed straight-forward enough, and the expectation was that the new Lectionary would be ready for publication at the same time as the Missal.
However, we struck problems with the copyright holders of the NRSV and have had some difficulties in our dealings with the Holy See. All of this so becalmed the project that there is now no hope that the Lectionary or any part of it will appear at the same time as the Missal. In fact, we have decided to move away from the NRSV and to prepare the Lectionary using a modified form of the English Standard Version (ESV), still with the revised Grail Psalter.
On this new basis, the project has progressed well; and the hope now is to have at least the first volume of the Lectionary (Sundays and Solemnities) ready for publication as close as possible to the appearance of the Missal.
Now this is remarkable on several points.
First, note the the tyranny of copyright. While the Vatican is mentioned, the major blame is put on the NCC, which has not kept silent about its distaste for changes being made to the NRSV which run contrary to the fundamental translation philosophy of the NRSV. Each of the items (1,2, and 3) listed above conflicts with a fundamental translation principle of the NRSV. It seems that in this case, the NCC took a principled stand against those modifications, with the result that the ICPEL project could not move forward with the NRSV. Nonetheless, one wonders: why was a compromise possible for the Canadian lectionary, and not for the ICPEL lectionary?
Second, this is quite a snub to Ignatius Press, which has long pushed a modified version of the RSV (which it calls the RSV-2CE). This revision of the RSV (which partly eliminated archaic “thou/thee” language) was designed to conform with Liturgiam Authenticam, and in fact, Ignatius claims that the Antilles Catholic Conference received Vatican permission to use this translation for its lectionary. (Note that Ignatius remaindered its remaining stock of the lectionary to a church scheduled to become an Anglican Ordinariate church on January 1st. The Anglican Ordinariate has approval to use the RSV (rather than the US lectionary, which is based on the New American Bible, NAB.)
Third, and this is most surprising, the ICPEL has apparently chosen a translation that had no Catholic involvement at all. The ESV (which some jokingly call the Evangelical Standard Version or the Elect Standard Version) had a strictly Protestant (and largely Calvinist) translation team. (The Translation Oversight Committee and Translation Review Scholars were also all male.) The RSV Apocrypha was adopted by Oxford University Press and four male Protestant scholars to form the ESV Apocrypha. The ESV has never received approval as a Catholic Bible (as opposed to a Catholic Lectionary), and it is hard to imagine how it could be approved as Catholic Bible under Canon law 825. However, lectionaries are governed under a different Canon law (838), which is why in most jurisdictions (including the US) approved Bibles have different text than approved lectionaries.
If the ICPEL proposal receives Vatican approval and moves forward, it could prove to be one of the most surprising events in the Bible translation wars.
Update 11 Aug 2013: Rumors are floating about that the ESV Lectionary project is on hold. See this post.