Alarm over the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer? Not so much.

prayerLast Wednesday LifeSiteNews published an article, which was later also published on Aleteia, about the new Dutch translation of the Lord’s Prayer, introduced in the dioceses of the Netherlands, Flanders and Suriname on the first Sunday of Advent, 27 November. Claiming that Dutch Catholics are “raising the alarm” over an ideological adaptation of the text of the Our Father, the article gives the impression that Catholics are up in arms about it across parishes everywhere. The truth is rather different.

The LifeSiteNews article draws mainly on the opinions of Vox Populi, a fairly extremely orthodox Catholic group from Flanders, which thus does not speak for the vast majority of Catholics. The fact that they are up in arms, does not mean that the bishops have a full-scale revolt to deal with. Furthermore, the new translation is linked to developments in the Church of the Netherlands that date back to the 1960s. What it fails to acknowledge is that we no longer live in the 60s (or 70s, 80s or 90s, for that matter). Accusing the bishops of enforcing ideological changes simply does not hold up any longer. None of the Dutch bishops comfortably fits in the liberal bracket, and some are even outspoken orthodox.

What the article also overlooks is that the new translation is not the sole endeavour of the bishops of the Netherlands and Flanders. It has actually received the approval of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, so it can not be presented as something done independently from Rome. In reality, the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer is part of the long overdue project to create a new, more accurate, translation of the entire Roman Missal.

It may be appealing to present an image of ruin when it comes to the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, and it is true that in many respects, things are not good, but to ignore the positive developments that also exist is a disservice to the truth. In fact, it underlines the ideological trends at LifeSiteNews.

The issue that Vox Populi raises, and which, in itself, is an issue worth discussing, revolves around two words: “bekoring” (used in the old translation) and “beproeving” (used in the new translation). One can be translated as “temptation”, the other as “test”, but, although we are talking about one language area, these words have different connotations in different parts. In the northern half of the Netherlands “bekoring” is now generally considered positively, while in the Southern half and in Belgium it is more negative and thus draws nearer to the meaning of “beproeving”: being tempted by something can become a test. These changes in meaning and understanding have prompted the bishops to change the translation. Not to introduce a new concept which wasn’t there in the original, but to stay closer to that original meaning.

Shortly before the introduction of the new translation, then-Archbishop De Kesel, who sat on the translation committee on behalf of the Flemish bishops, wrote:

de kesel“Until now this word (temptationis) has been translated as “bekoring” [temptation]. The Greek has peirasmos. This can be translated as both “bekoring” and “beproeving” [ordeal/test]. Most often this is translated as “beproeving”. So “beproeving” is the more concordant translation of the Greek basis. Translating it as “bekoring”, furthermore, presents a theological problem. “Bekoren” means to incite to evil. In Scripture this is said of the devil, not of God. God does not try and encourage man to commit evil. In that sense it is not God who tempts us, as the Letter of James (1:13) explicitly says. James responds here to an incorrect understanding of temptation or testing. It is not God, but, “when a man is tempted, it is always because he is being drawn away by the lure of his own passions”.

Yet it is an undeniable Biblical concept that God can test someone’s faith. For example, Abraham was tested, and so Jesus was tested also. “Thereupon, the Spirit sent him out into the desert:  and in the desert he spent forty days and forty nights, tempted by the devil” (Mark 1:12-13). The wording is striking and to the point: it is the Spirit who sends Jesus to the desert to be tested for forty days by Satan. The Spirit of God does not lure us into doing evil and test us in that way, but He can bring us into situations in which our faith is being tested. These are situations in which we are presented with the unavoidable choice: for God and thus against evil, or for evil and thus against God. Only in and through the testing we know whether or not we really believe in God. Whether we, like Abraham, trust Him unconditionally, even in the darkest hour. This is also the meaning of the forty years in the desert. As Deuteronomy 8:2 says: “the Lord thy God led thee through the desert, testing thee by hard discipline, to know the dispositions of thy heart”.

Hence the meaning of the final prayer in the Our Father. We do not ask God not to tempt us. He doesn’t. But we do ask Him not to test us beyond our abilities. And this is not just any test. It is about whether or not, when it really matters, we won’t deny our vocation as Christians. That, as happened to Simon Peter, we would say, when things get dangerous, “No, I do not know Him.” That is what we ask God earnestly in the last prayer of the Our Father: do not lead us to that ordeal.””

So, no, there is no revolt brewing, and neither is there an ideological agenda being pursued. A case can certainly be made for either translation of the word ‘temptation’. But, although the Dutch language area is small, it is home to a range of cultural and linguistic differences. When drafting a translation that can be used for the entire area, some changes must be made that will be understood differently in different places. That is why proper catechesis was and remains necessary. The explanation offered by Cardinal De Kesel is not automatically understood by all Dutch-speaking faithful, so it must be explained. Not by ideological groups like Vox Populi, but by the ones who commissioned the new translation: the bishops and with them the priests in the parishes.

Lastly, change is always difficult. It will take time for the new translation to take hold. But take hold it will, and I expect sooner rather than later.

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