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Hallo again to all.

Today is Advent 1 and the beginning of a new church year.* It is also a season that has precisely one hymn that is the queen of all the hymns in regular use: 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel'. Its metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons is without peer for this season of waiting. As someone who has spent a significant portion of professional life studying Latin, it is also an interesting exercise in hearing the same hymn in two languages, sometimes in the same service.

Page from the The Poissy AntiphonalA preface before we continue: we deeply appreciate the Anglican tradition of the vernacular. English liturgy for an English church made a deep and abiding sense in Cranmer's day, just as much as liturgies in the local tongue make sense today. That being said, we find that the English translation—as graceful as it is (and it is indeed graceful)—loses something from the Latin. We also acknowledge that we could not hope to do better.

Still, we enjoy mulling those differences between the two, even in the very first stanza:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Veni, veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio,
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

The metrical English translation captures the essence, the feeling of Israel waiting in exile for the Son of God, and the promise that he will come surely. Yet, for all that it draws so skillfully to paint that picture, it loses elements, too. The Latin does some things that one simply may not do in English, having solve (free) cut between the adjective captivum(captive) and Israel, physically cutting a bond in the order of the words. It also more strongly emphasizes the pain of Israel, which not just mourns but 'groans' (gemit) and is 'deprived' (privatus) of the Son of God, who is 'born for you' (nascetur pro te).

Too often we hear those in the church talk about the Authorized Version as 'stilted' or newer translations as implicitly better because they are 'contemporary.' (We do not here name names as to translations.) This is frustrating to us, not because the Authorized Version is not sometimes hard to understand given changes in language, nor because contemporary translations are inherently bad. In the latter case, philological developments in manuscript studies often have yielded better translations—if by 'better' we mean more in tune with the likely best renderings of the manuscripts of the scriptures.

The crux of the matter is that all translation is an act of interpretation and, to a certain extent, rewriting. We would not see the translation of 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' that has prevailed changed, even if sometimes we prefer the Latin. The English translation has become part of the fabric of Advent in the same way as incense that has seeped into the pews and books of a parish church. Still, we find it sad when we lose connections with works in their original language, because even some cursory knowledge makes them sing with new strength and power.

Regardless, whether it be in English, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Maori, Ibo, Swahili or one of the many other languages in which Anglicans worship, we hope you too will be awaiting the coming of Emmanuel in the weeks ahead.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

2 December 2018

* We once even had a choir director use this as an opportunity for us to sing Britten's 'New Year Carol'. Pushing it maybe, but it is a lovely hymn.

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