Thursday, September 16, 2010

traduttore traditore

Readers of this blog know that I very rarely give my own thoughts or opinions here. I prefer to provide translations, which is more fitting with my purpose of increasing knowledge and appreciation of Arab Orthodoxy among English speakers. However, I think that the current controversy in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America is a very good illustration of the need for more activity like this, done by more people.

I would suggest that all those interested take a look at Fr. George Aquaro's analysis of the Holy Synod's recent decision. It can be found here. Fr. George consulted quite a lot of knowledgeable people when he was writing it, and from my own point of view it is the most plausible interpretation of the Holy Synod's reasoning.

However, a reader who has only been familiar with the language used in official communications of the Archdiocese of North America might be forgiven for perhaps feeling a bit tricked. After all, how could an 'archdiocese' be an eparchy, and a 'diocesan bishop' essentially be a chorespiscopos? But in my experience, it is common that when communicating between two languages, that both sides agree on the equivalency between two words and both think they are communicating when in fact each side has a completely different notion of what is being said. Another pitfall of the translator's art is to translate a text that is ambiguous in the original into terms that are unambiguous in the translation. This is at times inevitable, but the result is an interpretation, not a translation.

Bearing Fr. George's analysis in mind, and also keeping in mind the Patriarchate's ambivalence about the whole notion of 'autonomy' or 'self-rule', I think it is worthwhile to take a look once more at the text of the 2003 decision of the Patriarchate of Antioch granting 'self-rule' to the Archdiocese of North America. Try to find the Arabic equivalent of 'diocesan bishop'. There's not one. Where the English says 'Recognition of Auxiliary Bishops as Diocesan Bishops and Eparchial Synod', the Arabic says "iqamat al-asaqifa al-musa'idun 'ala usqufiyyat wa-l-majma' al-ma7alli" This is literally "establishment of the auxiliary bishops over bishoprics and the local synod." It's clear from the meaningless switch from the Arabic "local" to the English "eparchial" that the translator was not pursuing literal accuracy. In that case, it's not a big deal. But when it mentions bishops, this is a very big deal, because the English is not a translation of the Arabic but rather an interpretation of what the translator believes is implied by the Arabic text.

So what does it mean to be muqam 'ala usqufiyya? In earlier translations I've done on this issue, I've been translating the word 'muqam' as 'assigned', but it's probably better rendered as 'established' or 'set up' or something like that. The Arabic text, then, is not discussing the recognition of a new status for the auxiliary bishops, but rather their establishment in new roles. Therein lies the ambiguity that is interpreted by the English translation: does the establishment of the bishops in a new role alter their status as auxiliaries? In an October 2003 article in an-Nahar (available in a serviceable but imperfect translation here) Metropolitan Georges Khodr seems to believe so, as he says that they will no longer be auxiliaries to the metropolitan, but rather 'territorial bishops' (asaqifa al-ard) who will have the authority to choose the priests whom they ordain. But notice that he does not use language perfectly corresponding to the English notion of 'diocesan bishop'.

In Metropolitan Basil's study, he makes a big distinction between titular bishops, a practice which the Patriarchate has more or less abandoned, and auxiliary bishops. That is, he assumes that the 2003 decision changed the status of the Antiochian titular bishops, who were canonically auxiliaries to the patriarch, to auxiliary bishops over a territory, who are canonically dependent on the metropolitan and have authority in a defined territory. He is, however, unclear about their exact authority or the authority of the Archdiocesan Synod. In that regard, Met. Basil's own suggestions are quite interesting and it seems to me that his vision of an auxiliary bishop has more authority than American Antiochian 'diocesan bishops' have had over the past seven years. Suggestion six, for example, implies that the auxiliary bishops' territories will have their own finances, out of which they will provide a fixed sum to the Archdiocese.

However, the Patriarchate has not officially spoken on these details, most of which were also left unaddressed in the 2003 decision. Thus Fr. Touma Bitar's frustration at the ambiguity of the recent decision and his appeal for further clarification. To his mind, a bishop cannot be both an auxiliary and established for a territory and a people, and so their status may have been reduced in practice to that of titular bishops. He highlights how the decision was likely cobbled together to include language preferred by parties who were at odds with each other and is thus ambiguous to the point of meaninglessness.

It would not be unwise to expect further clarification. As Fr. Touma points out, this decision effects the life of all the archdioceses of the Patriarchate, not just North America. In this process of clarification, we must be aware of the role that translation, both official and unofficial, plays. We must be aware of its pitfalls and of its capacity for concealing agendas. The act of translation requires trust and familiarity. We must work for broader communication between Arabic and English speakers within the Patriarchate and we must do all that we can to encourage greater familiarity between these two communities, these two nations, lest we allow only a small group of people to act as the sole bond between us.

What can we do to achieve this?


mar said...

What can we do to achieve this?

Well, use Latin! ;)

That is some language with a fixed dictionary that has well established canonical, and generally ecclesiastical vocabulary. We must remember that synodal (whether Patriarchal or Local) decisions do establish the Law.

Latin, which I used as an example, serves the Roman Curia very well in this capacity. And in every Roman Catholic diocese there is a good latinist and a handful of canonists to dissect a definitive text written in Latin, and that not to translate but unambiguously understand and interpret the mind of the legislator.

So, maybe ecclesiastical Greek?

Apophatically Speaking said...

However no matter what the language, if there are and remain hidden agendas with deliberate attempts to conceal and confuse, then any efforts to establish respect and familiarity will be stillborn. Transparency and accountability will need to be part and parcel of any move forward.

mike said...

It would be nice if you posted news about normal Orthodox events in Arabic speaking countries, not related to that auxillary stuff. People who don't know Arabic can't get to know what happens there.

Samn! said...


If you go through the archives of this website, there is quite a lot of information about 'normal Orthodox events'.... The issue about auxiliary bishops is of high interest to English-speaking Orthodox at the moment, so I translate what I can about it. But, it's hardly the bulk of what I post, even lately...

DNY said...

Now, how does the Arabic version of the section that asserts the equal authoritativeness of the Arabic version and the English translation read?

And what about the section in which the English version authorized the drawing of diocesan boundaries? Does it use the word for diocese?

As I have pointed out in other forums, His Beatitude is fluent in English and French (where the word for diocese is a cognate of the English word). If they didn't mean the Arabic to be read as creating diocesan bishops, why did they authorize an equally authoritative translation in English that said "diocesan bishops"?

Or did only the English version assert the equal authority of the two versions?

Samn! said...


Both texts assert that both translations have equal validity. The word that's translated 'diocese' is usqufiyya, which really just means 'bishopric'. While the word 'diocese' has a meaning in the English language usage of Slavic churches where it translates , it does not really have a meaning in Byzantine usage, as we can see in the weird arrangement in GOARCH where the segments of that Archdiocese which in English-language Slavic terms would be 'dioceses' are somehow 'metropolia'.

While His Beatitude may know English and French, it seems to me that the whole process of creating "self-rule" for the Archdiocese was itself a mess, and it seems that the same people were communicating different messages in different terms to the Synod and to America. The other aspect, and I'm hesitant to say this, is that it seems that for whatever reason it may be, the Synod has very little leverage in preventing Met. Philip from getting his way at any given moment.

DNY said...

Quite frankly, as a native speaker of English, I am mystified by the attempt to draw a distinction in meaning between the English words "bishopric" and "diocese". As is common in English, they are simply an Anglo-Saxon and a Norman French word for the same thing.

I realize you are trying to use one to render one Arabic word, and the other to render a different one, but this is not very helpful, as it does not communicate to English speakers any meaningful distinction between the denotation of the two Arabic words.

Samn! said...

This is part of the complicated world of translation... concepts don't line up, and very often longstanding, conventionalized translations for a given word conceal the fact that the semantic fields that each covers don't line up.

In Arabic we have the words "abrashiyya", which comes from the Greek eparchia and has for decades been given the conventional translation "archdiocese" and the word "usqufiyya" was translated as "diocese", though it means "bishopric" in the sense of "the seat of a bishop" which is not the same thing as a diocese, in that you can have a bishop's seat which is not a diocese-- think of in the OCA when Jonah was bishop of Ft. Worth. In that situation, Ft. Worth was his usqufiyya/bishopric but not his diocese. That is, Jonah was not a titular bishop, he had a real see where he was bishop, but he did not govern a diocese. The Antiochian situation isn't exactly the same,in that Antiochian auxiliary bishops, according to Met. Basil's report, have more authority in their territories than Russian-style auxiliary bishops have, but it's analogous.

So the problem is that the conventionalized translation of abrashiyya as "archdiocese" has created the false impression that they are sub-dividable into dioceses, even though in Arabic the only word corresponding to a territorial diocese is "abrashiyya", since eparchia is the word used in the eastern churches for diocese. This discrepancy, caused by basically a long-standing mistranslation or misinterpretation allowed some serious word-games to be played at the time of achieving "self-rule"....

The irony is, and I think this has yet to sink in, that an "auxiliary" according to Met. Basil's understanding has more authority than the "diocesan" bishops in North America have had over the past 7 years!

Fr. Yousuf said...

this last should be added as a post script to this on OCAnews, especially that last bit!

Samn! said...

Fr. Yousuf,

Most of what I said here was said in a more elaborate way by Fr. George Aquaro, whose analysis I unconditionally endorse. As for the very last bit, I'm trying to do all I can to point this out. More analysis of that topic, by better-informed authorities than myself should probably appear in the near future....The terms of the discourse desperately need to shift from 'diocesean' vs. 'auxiliary' to 'what rights and authority do the bishops have?'

abu-issa said...

How do we justify the terminology used by Patriarch Ignatius in the following videos taken at the Consecration of our three newest DIOCESAN BISHOPS?

Summons by Holy Synod to serve the Dioceses

Presentation of Staff and Mitre

Confession of Faith by Bishop Alexander

Confession of Faith by Bishop Mark

Confession of Faith of Bishop Thomas

Consecration and Vesting with the word for eparchy?

Watch very very carefully and listen to each word.

There are more videos to follow! Go to YOUTUBE and type droolingox to watch for more on this double talk. May we say, "Who is on first?"

Apophatically Speaking said...

How do we justify?

Entirely besides the point. The meaning of words can be changed however they please. As we have seen.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely correct, the Patriarch sits there with an open book with the list, Archimandrite Thomas Joseph Bishop Elect for the Diocese of Pittsburgh; Archimandrite Mark Maymon Bishop elect for the Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest and Archimandrite Alexnader Mufarage Bishop Elect for the DIOCESE of OTTOWA and Upstate New York and now they deny we have dioceses.

The patriarch used the term Diocese during the service and abrayshyya during the Consecration.

The words mean what they want them to mean. It meant one thing on December 5, 2004 and means something different today.

Why would anyone converting to Orthodoxy want to visit people who have such a bIG PROBLEM with the truth.

When all else fails, just try the truth for a change.

Apophatically Speaking said...

So we must pray for them as these are serious matters to which they will be held to account. May they work together with the Holy Spirit!