Sunday, May 21, 2023

The Lord's Prayer in Latin

Now this is interesting. I saw it in my morning Bible study. I was reading the so-called Lord's Prayer in Latin and noticed something I had overlooked all these years. 

The word "heaven" occurs twice in the LP. 

Our Father, who art in heaven ...

on earth as it is in heaven ...

But the Latin has this:

Pater noster qui es in caelis ...

sicut in caelo et in terra ...

Here's what I noticed. But first, a quick grammar lesson. Latin is an inflected language. English not so much. In English, for example, sometimes we use an apostrophe after a noun to indicate possession, as in "the father's daughter." Latin does it differently: filia patris. Word endings that indicate different uses of a noun are far more frequent in Latin. Now let's observe the Latin words rendered "heaven" here. They are caelis and caelo

"Heaven" is a neuter noun in Latin. The nominative case of this noun is caelum, "heaven." Here in the LP the term is used first in the ablative plural, caelis, and then in the ablative singular, caelo. Yet both terms are translated as though each was singular: "Our Father who art in heaven ... on earth as it is in heaven ...." Why, then, should the Latin make the first occurrence plural? And the answer is to be found -- where else? -- in the Greek:

Literally, the Greek says "who art in the heavens." 

Hence the plural in the Latin. This tells me that Jerome, in translating the Vulgate from the Greek, tried to stay as close to his source text as possible. That's why the Vulgate sometimes sounds stilted and overly-literal. Even the Greek word order is retained. For example, the English "on earth as it is in heaven" is not the same as the Greek, which reads "as in heaven, also on earth." This is exactly what the Latin has: "sicut in caelo et in terra." Thus in Latin, as in Greek, we have to train ourselves to observe the way words end, both nouns and verbs, if we are to understand what is being said. 

Would you like to be able to read Scripture like that? I would! As I have said before, observation is the essential first step in Bible study. I trust you are always increasing your powers of observation. Maybe blog posts like this one will help you do that.