Translation a divine act

There are any number of hard-working translators around our Region; Salesians, Sisters, lay people. It is one of the more thankless tasks, occupying many hours. It is a task that requires competence and perseverance. I am trying to urge the Congregation to think of it not as a 'problem', racing to find an immediate answer to a demanding question like 'now who can we find to get this into Spanish, or English or Chinese - tomorrow?) (Usually with the emphasis on 'tomorrow')? Translation doesn't work like that, unless it's of the simultaneous interpretation kind, which is not, technically, known as 'translation', but indeed, simultaneous interpretation.

But did you know that at least two significant Christian writers have taken the view that translation is a divine act which marks out Christian history in a particular way? One of them is particularly significant because, while a Catholic now, he grew up a Muslim and encountered Jesus for the first time in the Koran, a book which of its very nature is never translated.

The view taken by both Lammin Sanneh (Gambian born Muslim, now professor of missions, world Christianity and history at Yale Divinity School, and Andrew Walls OBE (Scotland) is that the Incarnation was an act of translation, Christianity is a translated religion and has been a force for translation throughout history - most languages have grammars and dictionaries because of the work of Christian missionaries. And anybody who knows anything about Salesian missions and missionaries around the world over 135 years knows that despite being Johnny-come-latelies in the history of Christian missions, this contribution to languages and cultures has been notable. Think north-east Indian hill tribes, the Shuar of Peru and Ecuador, the Xavantes in Brazil, just for starters.

Thus translators of EAO and elsewhere, be proud! Yours is a metaphor for mission, and maybe the Congregation could tackle the issue from this perspective rather than from the day-to-day emergency one.

What do you think?

1 comment

Comment from: Gaston De Neve
Gaston De Neve

I am very, very pleased with this text. After more than 40 years of missionary work in the RDC (the former Belgian Congo) I had to stay in Belgium because of kidney trouble. So I started working on the computer at the age of 74. I have now been translating for the province (BEN) for nearly ten years. I have never considered it as a diviine act but as a most humble missionary work.
Thank you for such a magnificent appreciation.
Father Gaston De Neve SDB

07/10/10 @ 21:19