The danger of changing Christ’s words
SIR – Regarding the controversy around the translation of the Our Father with the phrase “lead us not into temptation” (Letter, December 21), it may help to look at the beginning of each line in the series: “Give us … Forgive us … Lead us … Deliver us …”
We are asking God to meet our needs. Because God respects our free will, it is important to ask Him directly to “lead us”. Otherwise, we may miss that grace.
Where are we asking Him to lead us? Away from temptation. In the Our Father there is a turn of phrase that our modern tongue is not accustomed to: use of a negative to express a positive idea. We ask to be led “not into temptation”.
At first this may seem awkward, but upon reflection it provides a broader scope than saying “away from temptation”. If I am being led away from something, then my movement is limited to going in the opposite direction from whatever it is that tempts me. With the use of the phrase “not into temptation” my movement can be in any direction as long as it is not into any temptation.
I am not a Scripture scholar, but assuming that “not into temptation” is a fairly direct translation of what Our Lord said, then it seems most unwise to change it.
As a general rule, when we encounter something in Scripture we don’t understand, it is better to pray and stop and reflect on its meaning (maybe even pass on it for another day), rather than to seek to change the text because we don’t like it, or it doesn’t make sense to us.
Otherwise, there is a real danger that one could fall into the pit of worshipping one’s own intellect, rather than the living God.
Beresford, South Dakota
The theological meaning of a hug
SIR – Francisco Ribalta may well have been inspired by the 16th-century Jesuit Pedro de Ribadeneyra when painting Christ Embracing St Bernard (Arts, December 14), but the iconographical topos known as the amplexus (Latin for “embrace”) was one of the most popular medieval representations of the saint, with its literary source going back to a collection of miracle stories known as the Liber Miraculorum compiled by Herbert of Clairvaux not many years after Bernard’s death in 1153.
Around 80 medieval amplexus images are known, mostly in illuminated manuscripts but also in sculpture, paintings and stained glass, the earliest being in a 14th-century Gradual from a Cistercian women’s abbey. The popularity of the theme acknowledges St Bernard’s immense contribution to developing theology centred on Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
Dr James France
Blewbury, Oxfordshire, England
A lazy Advent
SIR – I fear the Catholic Church is in danger of focusing too much on the expectations of Christmas and not properly marking the distinct penitential season of Advent, leading up to the great celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity.
I recall my previous parish priest had a policy of not holding Christmas carol services and instead instituting an Advent carol service, which proved hugely popular and soon filled the church in a way which great solemnities would be envious of. This Ceremony of Advent used light and liturgy, and mined the huge resources of the Church’s Advent congregational hymns, plainchant and other music.
In addition, I regret that all too often our priests no longer focus during Advent preaching on the Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell – and instead seem to major on preparing for the “Light of Christ” (correct, perhaps, but both intellectually and theologically lazy).
Fortunately, the priest who serves our Bristol congregation of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was not afraid to preach on the Four Last Things, educate our Catholic grouping and uphold the historic faith of our Church.
SIR – Abolition of celibacy in the Latin Church (Cover story, January 4) will allow bishops a far wider choice of prayerful and apostolic candidates for ordination.
The law in the past has obliged them to make bad choices in their desperation to find candidates, while ignoring married men of great spirituality and zeal. Past Latin married clergy include Peter, first Bishop of Rome; and Germanos of Auxerre and Hilary of Poitiers, both French bishops, saints and Doctors of the Church.
Married clergy among Eastern Catholics were simply carrying on the apostolic tradition and were not the result of efforts to convert Orthodox. Negotiations were about legitimate occupancy of high office.
Zouk Mikael, Lebanon
SIR – What exactly did Our Lord mean when we transcribe what He said as He shared the Our Father with His disciples as “lead us not into temptation”? Is the new Italian version – “Do not abandon us to temptation” – in fact more accurately what He said?
It is probable that Jesus first gave the Our Father in Aramaic, His own language, and I am indebted to Robert Stevens, who wrote a linguistic analysis of the Aramaic Our Father in 2014. The Aramaic text reads: W-lo ta’elan l-nesyuno (“Bring us not into trial”). This has the sense of not failing in the test; so the verb nesyuno (in Greek, eisphero) would have a permissive not a causative sense.
This might be illustrated by the difference in the temptations of Judas and Peter.
Judas goes out into the night as a deliberate choice (and Our Lord’s remark in John 13:27 is an observation, not a command), whereas Peter starts denying Jesus as a result of circumstantial mockery – failing in the trial of external pressure.
It is not for nothing that Pope Francis observes that God has given Satan the lowly office of Tempter – which must infuriate him – but Our Father in heaven is well able to pull us away from the Devil’s clutches: “deliver us from evil”.
Steve de la Bédoyère
Of wrens and Wren
SIR – Surely an educated Anglican would know about St Stephen, not least because not far from St Bride’s is another City church by Sir Christopher Wren, St Stephen’s, with its central altar by Sir Henry Moore. I was surprised that Melanie McDonagh (Feature, December 21) didn’t wring out some significance re the architect’s name and her musings.
Paul D Walker
Eckington, Derbyshire, England
SIR – Would Steve James (Letter, December 21) kindly refrain from defining feminism and the role and nature of women Religious? Just what is the “opposite of men”? I would not presume to define “men” and of what their opposite might consist.
Dr Deborah Jones
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
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