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The Challenges of Translating the Word...

One of the gifts of our Archdiocese is our weekly news magazine the Angelus (formerly the Tidings).  In it you will find contributing columnist Fr. Ron Rolheiser weekly musings on an array of topics.  His column for this week, From Paranoia to Metanoia, is definitely worth taking a moment to read. 

Last week we spent some time talking about why there are so many different versions of the Bible, and why we are constantly revisiting our translations of these ancient texts.  As we discussed, language evolves, so if these ancient texts are to remain relevant, or even understandable, we need to occasionally revisit them to make sure they are staying true to the intent of their ancient authors.

One of the problems with translations from one language to another, however, is that there isn't always one word or phrase that easily matches the original.  A classic example, especially for scripture, is the word "love."  The ancient Greeks had at least five different words (philia, eros, agape, storge, and xenia) that we routinely translate into "love."  Not only do we need to recognize that our modern understanding of "love" can have multiple meanings, we also need to know which meaning best suits a particular scripture passage.  Thank God for footnotes!

I bring this up because Fr. Rolheiser's article focuses on the word "metanoia."  Now if you're like me, this is a word that doesn't likely fall into your daily vocabulary.  Thankfully, Fr. Rolheiser explains in his column.  In the synoptic gospels, we hear both John the Baptist and Jesus say "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Only they didn't use the word "repent."  The ancient Greek text uses the word "metanoia," which more accurately translates "being of higher mind,"  or more colloquially, "rising above it all."

Does that mean that the word "repent" is a bad translation?  Not exactly.  In fact, at worst, it's only an incomplete translation.  In order to "repent" one must be able to both seek and offer forgiveness:  "as we forgive those who trespass against us."  The idea that we need to let go of the baggage that holds us back.  To be the big man and know when to admit we made a mistake, or are ready to take action to be better. 

So take a moment to read this week's column from Fr. Rolheiser and find metanoia.

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