Have yourself a merry little Christmas. And an ancient, classical one, too, while you’re at it. That’s the wise message sent out by the Pope this winter.
First, he recommended that the young should learn more Latin. Students, he said, should “know how to treasure the very rich heritage of the Latin tradition to educate them in the path of life”. And then he said we should go back to the original Greek of the Lord’s Prayer, to get a better translation than the one we now use.
As the Pope said, the current line “Lead us not into temptation” has been badly translated. It suggests God leads us astray, whereas Satan is to blame. The line should really be translated, “Don’t let me fall into temptation.”
French bishops have already made the change, from “Do not submit us to temptation” to “Do not let us enter into temptation”. The Spanish have gone for “Don’t let us fall into temptation”; and the Italians for “Don’t abandon us to temptation.”
The problem goes back to the original Greek of the New Testament, and eisenenkês, the Greek word for “lead”. Derived from eisphero, it literally means “carry into”. To translate it as “Lead us not into temptation” is far too literal. Still, that’s essentially how it was translated into the Vulgate Latin – ne nos inducas in tentationem – and into English, in the familiar 1662 Book of Common Prayer translation. And so it has remained.
The story is a reminder of what I was taught by my old classics teachers: “Don’t be so literal, Mount. Interpret! Think of the English sense when you’re translating.”
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection