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ICEL agonistes

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 01, 2005

Former Tablet editor John Wilkins has a shoddy and tendentious article in the current Commonweal on the fortunes of ICEL, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. We get the conventional Four Legs Good Two Legs Bad storyline, with the Vatican playing its customary role of villain. Wilkins deplores John Paul II's use of his "iron will" to enforce doctrinal conformity -- somewhat ungraciously, in view of his acceptance of a knighthood from the palsied hands of the same bigoted Pope.

Controversial since its inception, ICEL became a focus of serious alarm among the orthodox in the 1980s, when it embarked on a revised translation of the Roman Missal. Feminist ideology had made its deepest inroads into English-speaking hierarchies at this time, and Wilkins continues to put forth the party line in his account of the conflict:

Any commission charged with English translations at that time would have felt the need to use inclusive language. By the 1980s it was hardly possible in ordinary speech or writing to continue to use the words "men" or "man" as applying also to women. The ICEL translators felt their way forward, both on the horizontal level, where masculine collective nouns, pronouns, and adjectives described groups including both women and men, and on the vertical level, where references to God were wholly masculine. Women religious, concerned that they should not yet again be marginalized by terms that excluded them, lobbied powerfully and effectively.

Effectively indeed. It has never been satisfactorily explained how masculine references to God "exclude" women, nor how translators can be licensed to "correct" their originals in this regard. But correct them they did. The first segments of ICEL's revised Missal declared war on the overly masculine deity which feminists found in the Latin editio typica (official text). You'd never guess it from Wilkins's superficial treatment, but ICEL engaged in a wholesale transformation of divine imagery, dropping masculine pronouns for God, changing third-person texts to second-person (genderless) addresses, and inserting supposedly feminine attributes to counter-balance masculine ones.

In ICEL's revised Proper of Seasons, for example, the following titles were substituted for the simple vocative Deus ("God") -- i.e., without any qualifier:

God of mystery
God of life
God of blessings
God of majesty
God of mercy
God of our salvation
God of nations
God of hope
God our Creator
God our Creator and Preserver
God ever-faithful
Ever-faithful God
All provident God
Compassionate God
Merciful God
Gracious God
Just and gracious God

Likewise, the title "Lord" was deemed too sexist, and got the gelding treatment. This is what ICEL gave us in place of simple (unqualified) vocative Domine. I'm not making this up, folks:

God of light
God of wisdom
God of majesty
God of forgiveness
God of mercy
God of mercy and compassion
God our Creator
All-provident God

To make it clear: ICEL was not commissioned to create a renewed liturgy but to translate Latin originals. The Church understands that the renewal process the Council called for produced the Latin originals, whence the Latin editio typica was itself the renewed text. But ICEL felt the renewal didn't go far enough, and sent to Rome a gender-titrated, androgynous, 1980s-style God/dess for its recognitio.

Dead on arrival. Somebody in the Holy See was paying attention, understood that "merciful and faithful God" did not translate omnipotens Deus, and sent it back to ICEL with a "What have you guys been smoking?" letter.

The ICELites are understandably bitter. After all, they were one rubber stamp away from a grand slam. We shouldn't forget, however, that the controversy was not a controversy over methods of translation. They were out to give us a different deity.

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