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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  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Dec. 02, 2005 7:34 PM ET USA

    Don't forget, in your analysis of the demise of the "old" ICEL, the work of Fr. Jerry Pokorsky and the organization Credo, for which I served as a member of the translation team. We took the Latin originals side-by-side with the ICEL follies to show (in my case) how the ICEL transmutations were Arian, Nestorian, Monophysite and Pelagian in character. The orthodox bishops, armed with such ammunition, prevailed in Rome. We got the epithet "semi-scholarly" association for our trouble.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 02, 2005 2:40 AM ET USA

    altar boy, you need to look in the Catechism: 'God is pure spirit, and posesses no quality of the body, neither masculine nor feminine'. You are confusing the Three with the One.

  • Posted by: Art Kelly - Dec. 02, 2005 12:58 AM ET USA

    Convert 1994 is correct. The Cardinal wrote a blistering letter to ICEL which totally rejected their rite of ordination. He indicated that not only was it a terrible translation, it was "not without doctrinal problems." His letter is posted in the Catholic Culture website at

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Dec. 01, 2005 6:27 PM ET USA

    how can I with one year of Latin (& a "C" average) translate some of these texts better than these so-called experts? Saints preserve us!

  • Posted by: - Dec. 01, 2005 4:27 PM ET USA

    Jesus is male. Jesus is God. God is male.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 01, 2005 1:11 PM ET USA

    Wasn't the initial English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church sent back due to the same kind of mischief?

  • Posted by: - Dec. 01, 2005 1:05 PM ET USA

    And sheep that won't be led usually get eaten rather than just sheared.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 01, 2005 12:38 PM ET USA

    This is where you lose me, Uncle D. Not over the condemnation of the dreadful ICEL but over your barely-veiled allegation that God is in fact male. Both masculinity and femininity reflect different perfections of God, who does show his love as that of a mother throughout Sacred Scripture cf: Mulieris Dignitatem. Furthermore, Catholic women are explicitly called to a 'Christian feminism' in Evangelium Vitae. The traditional and correct masculine pronoun does not mean God is male.

  • Posted by: Sir William - Dec. 01, 2005 11:40 AM ET USA

    In my diocese, objection to some tomfoolery (as when former bishop ordered standing after the Agnus Dei rather than kneel - even though its been our tradition time out of mind and we live no where near Mexico or Canada) is countered with the phrase "give proper catechesis to the people". Only catechesis given was "Bishop's orders - STAND" So, why won't REAL 'proper catechesis' work here? (With the added bonus of giving them lessons in proper English) Betcha we get excuses instead.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 01, 2005 10:24 AM ET USA

    The same translators and their sympathizers have conjured up an excuse for not faithfully translating the Latin text: -- such changes might disturb the folks (read "idiots") in the pews, who are already aghast at the priestly scandals wrought by the folks who put the translators in power. They object to new drafts of the liturgy on the same, tired old grounds. Their agenda remains --- change the faith through "translation." This will not fly with Benedict XVI.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 01, 2005 10:14 AM ET USA

    "They were out to give us a different deity." She's starring in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe due in theatres December 9th

  • Posted by: - Dec. 01, 2005 10:10 AM ET USA

    Diogenes, if memory serves, the ICELites' worst nightmare in the Holy See was Jorge Arturo Cardinal Medina Estevez. I seem to recall his lengthy and voluminous criticism of the draft Missal somehwere on the WWW. It was orthodox and absolutely devastating to the liberals and feminists. Cardinal Medina is my personal favorite.