Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Graciously Consubstantial, Like The Dewfall

I have been putting off this post, hoping I would get over it.  Until lately, every time I heard the word consubstantial, I'd twitch with a slight feeling of annoyance.  You see, I can't help remembering a few angry letters to the editor of our local Catholic newspaper concerning the new translation. I don't have the exact words, but some readers complained about the annoying use of the phrase "graciously grant."  Another complained about "under my roof" which I defend here.  Still another complained about that most brutally burdensome of all the words in any language, "consubstantial."  Each of these letters irked me, but I decided that answering the complaints would probably do no good.  The Mass has changed, and if these Catholics refuse to grasp the reason, no amount of explaining will help.

I have been giving some thought lately to the idea of "willful ignorance," and I am pretty sure that's what we have here.  Rather than explore the meanings and reasons for the new translation, they are satisfied to complain about them.  And they find they are not alone.  There is no lack of listeners who will readily add their voices to the complainers' chorus.  Oh, if they would only sing (good music) as loudly as they complain!

But a year into the new translation, there's good news:  Catholics Overwhelmingly Approve the New Missal.  So.

I love the word consubstantial, and that is due to, I suspect, my love for language studies.  There is a school of thought in linguistics that there is a physical or intuitive relationship between a word and its meaning--a certain kind of iconicity.  I know it is not always true, though there are some fun examples to add to the discussion, like matching IKEA items to their catalog designations, or not.  In the case of consubstantial, the word itself is consubstantial, together in an inseparable way that make it one word.  I find it way more evocative of the relationship between the Father and the Son than "one in being with" ever could be.  "One in being with" is awkward, and sounds like bad grammar.

Look.  We humans are linguistic geniuses.  We use words because we want to communicate   We use big words to communicate big ideas.  People raised on big words learn them just as easily as they learn small words.  If we are capable of learning these longer, more precise words, then let's do it and stop disparaging the new translation for its differences, and embrace a bigger reality that requires more precision and more thought.

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