Thursday, 14 August 2008

Letter to the Bishops Conferences on the Name of God

I have not yet had a rant about a subject that has infuriated me for years: the use of the "name" of God "Yahweh" in so many popular Catholic liturgical songs. Now, thanks to the Congregation for Divine Worship, it looks as if I don't have to, as they have done a good job for me.

Of course, the story is all over the blogosphere by now (most citing this CNS news story that has interesting statements from the big publishers OCP and GIA), but you may be interested to read the source document in this regard (when dealing with the Vatican, always, ALWAYS find the actual document in question rather than rely on news reports).

And here it is folks, for you to cut and paste and refer to:
Congregatio de Cultu Divino
et Disciplina Sacramentorum
Prot. N.213/08/L

Letter To The Bishops Conferences On "The Name Of God"

Your Eminence\Your Excellency:

By directive of the Holy Father, in accord with the congregation for the Doctrine Of The Faith, this Congregation For Divine Worship And The Discipline Of The Sacraments deems it convenient to communicate to the Bishops Conferences the following as regards the translation and the pronunciation, in a liturgical setting, of the Divine Name signified in the sacred tetragrammaton, along with a number of directives.

I. Expose

1. The words of Sacred Scripture contained in the Old and New Testament express truth which transcends the limits imposed by time and place. They are the Word of God expressed in human words, and, by means of these words of life, the Holy Spirit introduces the faithful to knowledge of the truth whole and entire and thus the Word of Christ comes to dwell in the faithful in all its richness (cf. John 14:26; 16:12-15). In order that the word of God, written in the sacred texts, may be conserved and transmitted in an integral and faithful manner, every modern translation of the books of the Bible aims at being a faithful and accurate transposition of the original texts. Such a literary effort requires that the original text be translated with the maximum integrity and accuracy, without omissions or additions with regard to the contents, and without introducing explanatory glosses or paraphrases which do not belong to the sacred text itself.

As regards the sacred name of God himself, translators must use the greatest faithfulness and respect. In particular, as the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam (n. 41) states:

"In accordance with immemorial tradition, which indeed is already evident in the above-mentioned "Septuagint" version, the name of almighty God, expressed by the Hebrew tetragrammaton and the rendered in Latin by the word Dominus, is to be rendered into any given vernacular by a word equivalent in meaning. [Iuxta traditionem ab immemorabili receptam, immo in (…) versione "LXX virorum" iam perspicuam, nomen Dei omnipotentis, sacro tetragrammate hebaraice expressum, latine vocabulo "Dominus" in quavis lingua populari vocabulo quodam eiusdem significationis reddatur."]"

Notwithstanding such a clear norm, in recent years, the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name, known as the holy or divine tetragrammaton, written with four consonants of the Hebrew alphabet in the form hwhy, YHWH. The practice of vocalising it is met with both in the reading of biblical texts taken from the lectionary as well as in prayers and hymns, and it occurs in diverse written and spoken forms, such as, for example, "Yahweh", "Yahwè", "Jahwè", "Jave", "Yehova", etc. It is therefore our intention, with the present letter, to set out some essential facts which lie behind the above-mentioned norm and to establish some directives to be observed in this matter.

2. The venerable biblical tradition of Sacred Scripture, known as the Old Testament, displays a series of divine appellations, among which is the sacred name of God revealed in a tetragrammaton YHWH (hwhy). As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: "Adonai", which means "Lord".

The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the so called Septuagint, dating back to the last centuries prior to the Christian era, had regularly rendered the Hebrew tetragrammaton with the Greek word Kyrios, which means "Lord". Since the text of the Septuagint constituted the Bible of the first generation of Greek speaking Christians, in which language all the books of the New Testament were also written, these Christians, too, from the beginning never pronounced the divine tetragrammaton. Something similar happened likewise for Latin speaking Christians, whose literature began to emerge from the second century as first the Vetus Latina and later, the Vulgate of St Jerome, attest: in these translations, too, the tetragrammaton was regularly replaced by the Latin word "Dominus", corresponding both to the Hebrew Adonai and to the Greek Kyrios. The same holds for the recent Neo-Vulgate, which the Church employs in the liturgy.

This fact had important implications for New Testament Christology itself. When in fact, St Paul, with regard to the crucifixion, writes that "God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9), he does not mean any other name than "Lord", for he continues by saying, "and every tonne confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil 2:11; cf, Isaiah 42:8: "I am the Lord; that is my name"). The attribution of this title to the Risen Christ corresponds exactly to the proclamation of his divinity. The title in fact becomes interchangeable between the God of Israel and the Messiah of the Christian faith, even though it is not in fact one of the titles used for the Messiah of Israel. In the strictly theological sense, this title is found, for example, already in the first canonical Gospel (cf. Matthew 1:20: "the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream"), and one sees it as a rule in the Old Testament citations in the New Testament (cf. Acts 2:20: "the sun shall be turned to darkness ... before the day of the Lord comes (Joel 3:4); 1 Peter 1:25: "the word of the Lord abides for ever" (Isaiah 40:8)). However, in the properly Christological sense, apart from the text cited in Philippians 2:9-11, one can remember Romans 10:9 ("if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved"), 1 Corinthians 2:8 ("they would not have crucified the Lord of glory"), 1 Corinthians 12:3 ("no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit") and the frequent formula concerning the Christian who lives "in the Lord" (Romans 16:2; 1 Corinthians 7:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:8; etc).

3. Avoiding pronouncing the tetragrammaton of the name of God on the part of the Church has therefore its own grounds. Apart from a motive of a purely philogical order, there is also that of remaining faithful to the Church's tradition, from the beginning, that the sacred tetragrammaton was never pronounced in the Christian context, nor translated into any of the languages into which the Bible was translated.

II. Directives.

In the light of what has been expounded, the following directives are to be observed:

1. In liturgical celebrations, in songs in prayers the name of God in the form of the tetragrammaton YHWH is neither to be used or pronounced.

2. For the translation of the biblical text in modern languages, destined for the liturgical usage of the church, what is already prescribed in n. 41 of the Instruction Liturgiam Authenticam is to be followed; that is, the divine tetragrammaton is to be rendered by the equivalent of Adonai/Kyrios: "Lord", "Signore", "Seigneur", "Herr", "Senor", etc.

3. In translating, in the liturgical context, texts in which are present, one after the other, either the Hebrew term Adonai or the tetragrammaton YHWH, Adonai is to be translated "Lord" and the form "God is" is to be used for the tetragrammaton YHWH, similar to what happens in the Greek translation of the Septuagint and in the Latin translation of the Vulgate.

From the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, June 29, 2008.

+ Francis Card. Arinze

+ Albert Malcolm Ranjith
Archbishop Secretary


Joshua said...

How embarrassing for the Vatican - this Instruction directly contradicts what is found in the modern Divine Office, in its Latin editio typica altera, in the Canticle from Exodus 15, used on Saturday in the 1st week of the Psalter:

... (v.3) Dominus quasi vir pugnator; *
Iahveh nomen eius! ...

Exclamation mark indeed!

Schütz said...

Embarrasing indeed! How did that happen. I checked in my own copy of the Latin Office, and you are quite right.

Nevertheless, the Neo-Vulgate (on the Vatican Website) has

Ex 15:3 Dominus quasi vir pugnator;
Dominus nomen eius!

And the original Vulgate had

Ex 15:3 Dominus quasi vir pugnator Omnipotens nomen eius

So I don't know how the Iahveh got in there!