Satan Be Siftin’ All Y’all: Why All English Bibles Stink 

November 3, 2015


  Photograph: Guest poster, Alec Seelau, is a former agnostic turned Protestant, whose search for the objective truth led him to Catholicism. When he isn’t calling out heretics in his free time, he is teaching RCIA, drinking too much coffee, or spending time with his family. 

              All the readily available Catholic Bible translations in English are perfectly fine for devotion, and many of them are more than adequate for casual study. A good number of translations should be consulted when engaging in serious study, but the fact is that it’s unlikely that any of the modern translations are going to lead you headlong into heresy, any more than the original documents themselves would. 
            I very often recommend the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSV-CE), or the Second Edition of the same (RSV-2CE) to people who ask what Bible they should pick up. I sometimes recommend the New American Bible or the Revised Edition of the same (NAB and NABRE, respectively) if the reader wants something closer to the Lectionary used in Mass, as long as they promise me they won’t read the often problematic commentary and notes that accompany those translations. If you read the Jerusalem Bible, I imagine you’re a little more on the poetic side; the Confraternity edition, you’re probably into more formal language and touched with a bit of nostalgia. If you prefer the Douay Rheims, then I fancy you a lover of Shakespeare or a convert from a King James-only brand of Protestantism.

             I read all these translations, and more, but I will admit that none of them pass my true litmus test. There are hundreds of passages I might rightly check in looking for a Bible translation I can live with, but in the process of sifting Bible translations for my personal use, I will share my top three, quick-and-dirty tests.

 Like a… Young Woman?

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-el.” Isaiah 7:14, RSV-2CE

            ​This one is used by Evangelical Protestants and Catholics alike to check for a translator’s theological bent in the Christological prophecy of the Virgin Birth found in Isaiah. With a word that can be translated variously (and correctly) as “young woman”, “girl”, “maiden”, “virgin”, etc., it is helpful to read this passage and see if the translator chose a word that reflects the (fulfilled!) Christological reality of this passage. The RSV-CE, for example, uses “young woman” with a footnote suggesting “virgin” as an alternate.   

            Translation is hard work, and very often context does not give sufficient evidence for how a passage is best translated. Indeed, sometimes passages just can’t be adequately translated from one language to another. In cases where a translator must choose a word from among many, there is no avoiding bias. There is no “neutral” way to translate this passage—either you believe it points to a fulfilled prophecy in Our Lady and Jesus, or you don’t—and you translate accordingly. Just like being subject to the bias of a history book writer (even if he only writes names and dates, the history author is still using his bias to determine which names and dates are actually important), when we read the Scriptures we are subject to the translator’s bias.

 You’re Full of It

“And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Luke 1:28, RSV-2CE

​             Here we have the quintessential Catholic litmus test for a Bible. Is Mary “full of grace”, or simply a “highly favored one”? There is a lot more going on here than we have time to get into, but suffice it to say that the traditional “gratia plena”—“full of grace”—has a lot of history behind it, and a lot more meaning is packed into that phrase than you can probably imagine. This is one of those passages that, like Isaiah 7:14, is highly politicized. Unlike Isaiah 7:14, however, Luke 1:28 isn’t just about belief in the Virgin Birth and fulfilled prophecies of Christ–it speaks to the heart of our very understanding of Our Lady and her place in salvation history. Most Protestants are on board with Christological prophecies, but far fewer are ready to involve Our Lady in the economy of salvation, and so Luke 1:28 suffers from a lot more polarization. Even the USCCB-produced NAB and the NABRE render the phrase “favored one”. The whole affair is like a Catholic Scopes Monkey Trial.

 Sift All Y’all Like Wheat

“‎‎And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” Luke 22:31-32, Douay Rheims

           ​This one is less political and biased, and more an issue of limitations of modern English. Old translations, like the Douay Rheims above, preserve the distinction in English between second personal singular and second person plural. It’s easy—if you see thou/thee/thy/thine, we are talking to or about ONE person. If you see ye/you/your/yours, we are talking to or about MULTIPLE people. So who did Satan want to sift like wheat? The Douay Rheims tells us “you”, meaning, though he specifically is speaking to Simon Peter, Satan has desired to have all of Jesus apostles. In the New Southern Translation, Jesus would say, “Listen up, Pete—the devil wants to sift all y’all like wheat.”

​              That is what makes Jesus next statement more remarkable. Who did Jesus pray for, and for their faith to be preserved? “I have prayed for thee [singular, referring to Simon Peter alone], that thy faith [Peter’s faith] fail not; and thou [Peter], being once converted, confirm thy [Peter’s] brethren.” This passage has much to say about the primacy of Peter and the papacy in relation to the college of bishops. It’s a very papal passage, and that’s often lost in modern English where we use the generic “you” for both singular and plural.

            ​Look at the RSV-CE: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” The most obvious interpretation, based on this rendering, is that Satan demanded to have Peter, and Jesus said, “No.” Peter will be tested and will pull through (because of Jesus’ prayer) and will confirm the brethren. However, what we know really happened (from the Douay Rheims and others) is that Satan demanded to test them all, and that Jesus *allowed* Satan to sift them *all* like wheat, except for Peter; He preserved Peter alone, so that Peter could go back and confirm, strengthen, and re-establish their faith through his own, supernaturally preserved faith. The RSV-CE is somewhat inconsistent, in that it preserves the traditional second person singular when speaking about God, yet it does not preserve the second personal singular when talking about people. Thus, in this passage, the retention of the more formal sounding English isn’t used, and the meaning is largely lost.

             ​Let’s examine one final rendering of this passage—one in modern English that manages to maintain the meaning, even if through some linguistic gymnastics. The NAB and NABRE both produce: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” The qualifier “all” in “all of you”, or “own” in “your own faith”, are not strictly present in the text, but are justified due to the lack of clarity otherwise allowed by modern English.

 The Perfect Translation

             ​We all know there is no perfect translation. One could argue that the Douay Rheims passes my three litmus tests above. This is true, and while I do love Shakespeare and while I did spend a good stint of my time in the Protestant realm heavily utilizing the King James Version, the fact is that the Douay Rheims both employs some confusingly archaic language, and also has phrasing that was modified over time (the Douay Rheims we use today is actually a heavily modified version of the original, revised by Bishop Challoner in the late 19th century) that sometimes, while not linguistically incorrect, renders a passage in a way that doesn’t always reveal its true character. For example, the choice to render a Hebrew word as “anointed one” in the Old Testament and a Greek word as “Christ” in the New Testament, even though we, as Christians, believe they are speaking of the same anointed one—Jesus, the Christ.

             With the development of English as a living language, I don’t know that even the original Douay Rheims would clarify much, particularly with its dogged adherence to the word order of the Clementine Vulgate (word order doesn’t matter in Latin, so transposing Latin word order straight into English can be, at the very least, downright confusing). Yes, if Challoner’s Douay Rheims or the RSV-CE used the word “X” instead of “Y” it would be more clarifying / Christological / “Catholic” / whatever, but my reading it in the original Douay Rheims, in the middle of a sentence using a convoluted Latin word order, doesn’t necessarily help me that much, especially in my daily devotional reading.

              So perhaps it could be said that the weakness of many modern translations is substantive, and the weakness of many older translations is stylistic, but the fact remains that I don’t know of one that satisfies my requirements for both form and function to the degree that I would like. Some people have a great fear of “reading in” to the text something that isn’t there. This is a real danger, but of greater concern for a Protestant who bases his beliefs “solely on the Bible.” The Church does not have a right to corrupt a Bible translation, but she does have the right to interpret the Bible, infallibly, for the edification of the faithful. In the many, many places where translators have legitimate liberty to choose how to render a word, a phrase, or a passage, I would like to see a translation that is unabashedly Catholic and reflects a Catholic translational bias. The Church has the right to translate the Scriptures for clarity in that way, and even if it would produce a translation that would be maligned as being “partisan” by non-Catholics, the fact remains that it would serve as a good devotional and a legitimate teaching tool, teaching both the faithful and outsiders alike what the Catholic Church believes about each passage. It would accomplish this, not through any extra commentary, but through the very rendering of the text itself, marrying legitimate scholarship with the inerrant and enduring interpretation of the Church. Alas, until that dream becomes a reality, perhaps I should brush up on my Latin, dust off my Clementine Vulgate, and dive in.

Pax Vobiscum, Nerds! 

The most terrifying costume of all

October 31, 2015


Wishing you a safe and fun Halloween. Don’t forget, All Saints and All Souls Days!

Pax vobiscum, nerds!

TIME does not heal all wounds

October 28, 2015

It has been said that time heals all wounds. This is a lie. Truly, time just allows you to feel your pain less often. As life continues, you are privileged to experience unpredictable, intermittent numbness, a numbing of your humanity. Time, then, allows others to forget your misfortune and scoff at your continued pain. ‘Why can’t they just move on, already?’
Time allows everyone to forget you and to leave you, utterly alone, to tend your wounds. And what of these wounds? They remain as painful as the moment of their inception, ever a reminder of what transpired. That is what time does.
Love, on the other hand, is healing. Love cares for wounds like the most attentive nurse. It nurtures the soul, creating balance and renews joy. Love rehabilitates the distrustful, and inspires hope in the despaired. Seek to be that love for other people, for you can never be certain just how wounded others may be. And never forget the source and summit of all love, God.

I have found that nurturing, healing love in my husband​. Thanks be to God, Alleluia!

In memory of my mother, a friend, a wife, a sister, a niece, a cousin, a daughter and a granddaughter
1964- 2000

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13

Interview with a Catholic Toddler

October 26, 2015

 “Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

– Matthew 19:14

 The following is an unscripted interview with a three-year-old about her Catholic faith.

Interviewer: Thank you for joining me, today. Are you excited for your interview?

Toddler: YES! I love talking to you!

I: Wonderful, let’s begin. Please, tell me how you feel about Jesus.

T: Well, he’s great. He knows God & Mary. I bet he’s ticklish like me. I want to give him flowers. I fink he likes flowers.

I: Fascinating. How can we love people like Jesus?

T: The number 6.

I: ….the number 6?

T: Yes, the number 5 and 6 (Shows me 6 fingers).

I: How can we love people like Jesus?

T: We jus’ try again.

I: Wise beyond your years. Yes. How do you feel about church?

T: Good. It’s like a square and a triangle. It looks like a castle. I like to go.

I: What do you think of the priest, the guy at the front?

T: He says Mass for God. He wears a pretty dress like this (motions a long dress). It’s green. He looks like a giant pickle (Giggles).

I: Indeed. Good observations. Do you have a favorite saint?

T: I like Mary mother of God. And…St Board (pretends to ride skateboard).

I: St Board? What is St. Board the patron saint of?

T: Skateboards!

I: Fascinating. He must be busy. So you like Mary. What do you think about her?

T: I fink she’s full a gwace, and I fink she would like to be in the jungle. I don’t fink she likes flowers, but she’s very pretty. She has a byoo-full dress.

I: Very deep. What do you think about kneeling during the Mass?

T: I think we should change it to kneeling in a garden. I like gardens (gestures like she’s holding a flower).

I: That would be nice! You like the ‘sign of peace’ a lot. Is that your favorite part?

T: Can we add water to that garden? I think the garden should have water!

I: Sure, why not? So, you don’t like the ‘sign of peace?’

T: Oh, I LOVE that! I like it when my mommy and daddy hug me, and, then, I talk to other peoples. We dress very pretty.

I: This has been very fun, but I think we should wrap this up for today. Would you like to add anything?

T: I fink….I fink we need to count all deez everybodies.

I: Very wise. We need to count everyone.

7 Deadly Sins and 60 Second Remedies

October 24, 2015
Frans Francken the Younger's Mankind's Eternal Dilemma: The Choice Between Virtue and Vice.
  1. Pride, being inwardly focused, is countered by humility which is, simply, rejoicing in others and the forgetting of ourselves. When we realize that all that we are and have comes from God, we realize we have nothing of which to be proud.
    Assignment: Do something ‘beneath’ you in service of others and do not speak of it. Keep it between you and the Lord.
  2. Envy, the discontent with the advantage’s another possesses, is countered by gratitude which is the realization that all comes from God, and, thus, we have no right to feel slighted or denied for not receiving or possessing.
    Assignment: Examine your natural talents and praise God for them every morning recalling that he has given you these gifts and the possibility of eternal bliss in Heaven with Him, something you cannot ever deserve.
  3. Wrath, which is anger indulged to the point of hatred and a desire to injure the other party, is countered by forgiveness which is simply when we decide stop drinking the poison that we expect to hurt others. It’s illogical. We withhold forgiveness, in the devious hope of harming this offender in return, but we only wound ourselves, again. Stop drinking the poison. Wrath can, in some cases, be inwardly directed, thereby causing harm to ourselves.
    Assignment: Forgive someone a great offense, and never bring it up, again. If it surfaces in your mind, say, “This offense was nothing compared to my great offenses toward God, from whom I hope to obtain forgiveness.” Refrain from gossip which is only a tool of the evil one to spread unforgiveness.
  4. Sloth, contrary to popular convention, is an attitude of indifference toward that which deserves our attention and care. Sloth is countered by spiritual fervor which is the natural by-product of appreciating and adoring the wonder that is our God. If we realize His divine greatness, then, how can we be indifferent about the truths which He has revealed and, further, their importance? God is either the most important thing, or not important at all because He does not exist. The one thing He cannot be, is moderately important.
    Assignment: Examine the morals you have rationalized away in your life, chastity for example, which you know to be wrong. Fight for this moral in your life and in the life of others, from a place of love and kindness. It is never kind to let others miss the importance of something. It is never kind to watch someone drink poison because they may get angry if we tell them it is poison.
  5. Lust, the disordered desire to carnally use another as means to our end, is countered by chastity, the ability to resist the abuse or disordered use of that which is intrinsically good with regard to human sexuality. Human sexuality is not bad; do not think, because something can be misused, it is, altogether, bad. Like wine, which can be pleasant and moderated, it can also be use destructively. Sex is to be highly revered and respected as a reflection of the union of the divine Persons, God, and a physical renewal of the vows of sacramental marriage. Respect this union, unlike the culture, which feels sex is little more than a handshake to be sterilized and shared with whomever, whatever, whenever.
    Assignment: Identify the greatest threat to your purity and chastity, whether you be married, unmarried, or celibate, and see this threat as the devil offering you candy laced with poison, instantly gratifying and delightful with lasting damage to the human person.
  6. Greed is, simply, the choosing to love or have charity toward things over people, and we counter this when we realize that everything we have, past what we need, is taken from those who do not have necessities.
    Assignment: Find a small, inessential pleasure in your life, not necessarily an evil. Eliminate it, and offer the bounty from this sacrifice to give others. For example, abandon your morning Starbucks and give this to the Church or a food pantry.
  7. Gluttony is attempting to satiate a deficit meant to be filled with God, with food or material, or seeking to ‘live on bread alone,’ as the scripture warns against. We must temper this desire by recognizing, if the pang we feel is a call to nourish our body, or to nourish our soul.
    Assignment: Skip an item in a meal that you want but do not need, such as a condiment or a dessert, and offer this sacrifice for an intention near to your heart.                                               Pax vobiscum, nerds!

Image: Frans Francken the Younger’s Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma: The Choice Between Virtue and Vice