The limits of translation are central to Scott Johnson's contribution to this volume. As he puts it, ‘the complexity of acculturation is primary, and the degree to which historical cultures are bound by modern preconceptions of their essentials should be made as transparent as possible. This is especially true given the incredible amount of cultural exchange and cross-pollination that went on in Late Antiquity.’Footnote 15 However, also core to his argument is the extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness which Christians, in his case Syriac Christians, displayed in the carvings on the so-called Nestorian stele, a 270-cm-high limestone block now on display in the north-western Chinese city of Xi'an, which was erected in 781 to record the first 150 years or so of Christian history in China. On it these Syriac-Chinese Christians displayed their Middle Eastern heritage through the use of several languages, including the Eastern Iranian language of Sogdian, which inflects several Syriac words carved onto the stele, including zynst'n for China (when the more usual Syriac alternative was Beth Tsinaye).
On the other side of the globe, in eighth-century Anglo-Saxon England, linguistic resilience of another kind was on display. By means of a careful reading of Bede and Boniface in conjunction with conciliar and liturgical sources, Miriam Adan Jones argues convincingly for the use of the vernacular Old English in baptismal ceremonies. This discovery shows the continued importance, in what was still a relatively young and ‘Christianizing’ Church, of the need to engage the understanding and compliance of new Christian converts. Translation of a different – physical – kind is the subject of Mark Laynesmith's account of the spread of the cult of St Alban, protomartyr of the English Church, to Merovingian Gaul, where veneration to him was far more widespread than in England itself. Eventually there came to be nearly a hundred churches dedicated to him in France, which may be found as far south as Provence and as far west as Brittany. A key figure in the spread of this cult – made possible also by the spread of Alban's relics – was Germanus, bishop of Auxerre (378–448). Marie-Thérèse Champagne takes us back to the Bible and its translation, specifically to the presence of Jewish scholars in twelfth-century Rome and their influence on translations such as Latin versions of the Book of Psalms.
Anne Lester's refreshingly radical retelling of the story of the translation and appropriation of the numerous relics from Constantinple which entered Western Europe in the aftermath of the sack of the capital of the Eastern Empire in 1204 is less of a stark contrast with Champagne's picture of a community of scholars who shared a common interest than might be expected. This is because Lester is able to demonstrate the degree to which there existed a communication network based on a community of interest in these sacred objects, which circulated openly as gifts, complete with certificates of authentification, over several decades, rather than furtively as booty stolen by the Crusaders and distributed randomly in the West. Arguing that the reason why we know so much about these relics was precisely because they were such ‘demanding things’, which ‘needed to be enshrined, venerated, described and contextualized’, she concludes that in the longer-term importation of so many holy objects which were directly associated with Christ had the effect of encouraging trends toward the vita Apostolica and imitatio Christi that were to shape late medieval devotion. Such approaches to devotion collapsed not only distance but also time, as was to happen again in late sixteenth-century Rome, when the catacombs, that mine of sanctity, came on stream as a seemingly inexhaustible source of relics and, in so doing, brought the early Church back to life for pilgrims to the Eternal City.Footnote 16
Morgan Ring returns our attention to textual translation in her illuminating discussion of the English version of Jacopo de Voragine's thirteenth-century collection of saints’ lives, the Legenda aurea, published by William Caxton with the collaboration of Wynken de Worde. Together they produced what was, in important respects, a ‘new’ work that made available in English both Bible stories and Bible paraphrase to priests and laity for whom the legacy of the Lollards had rendered the vernacular Scriptures out of bounds. Lucy Wooding continues the theme of translated language by looking at the various uses to which English translations of Erasmus were put in Henrician England. In short, Wooding shows how the Dutch humanist was ‘good to think with’: several English authors used their translations of his work to position themselves in relation to the early Reformation.Footnote 17 For example, the Bible translator William Tyndale's famous declaration that the ‘boy that driveth the plough shall know more scripture than thou dost’ was lifted from Erasmus's preface to his Latin translation of the Greek New Testament (based on the text of the fifteenth-century Italian humanist, Lorenzo Valla), the Novum Instrumentum of 1517. However, of far greater interest – and significance – for the influence of Christian humanism on the course of the English Reformation, were Erasmus's Paraphrases of the New Testament, which the Elizabethan Injunctions instructed must be placed in English parish churches next to the Bible. This article is complemented by Charlotte Methuen's examination of Luther's Open Letter on Translation, as it related to his translation of such key passages as Romans 3: 28, which he saw as central to his doctrine of justification by faith alone. Methuen makes the important point that ‘translation was not only a question of textual accuracy but also of defining orthodoxy and heresy’.Footnote 18 Luther's translation of this key passage from Romans, among others, was clearly designed to inspire new ways of reading and appreciating the source texts, to paraphrase the American translation theorist, Lawrence Venuti, whose campaign against the invisibility – or illusory transparency – of translation is helpful in reminding not only historians of the Reformation of the necessarily creative and interpretative role of such cultural work.Footnote 19
My own article argues that the age of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations and the global spread of the latter brought with it the challenge that not only was it necessary to learn new languages in order to communicate the Christian message to non-European peoples encountered during the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’, but some kind of control had to be exercised over the new, global circulation of sacred images and relics. The latter facilitated the visual (and virtual) translation of such holy sites as Jerusalem and Rome and its specific holy treasures in the mental prayers of the faithful. The essay concludes that it was less Lamin Sanneh's ‘triumph of [linguistic] translatability’ and more the physical translatability of the sacred that made possible the emergence of Roman Catholicism as this planet's first world religion.
This creative dimension is also found in Silvia Manzi's case study of the translation into the vernacular of official instructions – either originally written or conceived in Latin – which were given by Roman Catholic bishops to their clergy and flock in the Italian peninsula. In view of the fierce hostility of the Counter-Reformation Church to the use of the vernacular in worship, this might seem counter-intuitive, but it demonstrates the value placed by post-Reformation Rome on the observance of papal instructions in the form of its official pronouncements – or bulls – as well as the decrees of the Council of Trent, which required the comprehension of those whom the directives were aimed at. However, as Manzi shows, individual bishops used their discretion in how they translated the Latin directives from Rome to modify (and often moderate) this top-down pressure.
With Aislinn Muller's account of the distribution of the bull of excommunication directed at Queen Elizabeth I, Regnans in excelsis, we return to the world of things as well as words. Muller usefully reminds us that communication, including that of such dramatic acts to the intended parties, was far from straightforward even in the age of printing. The audience included not only the queen herself but also all those who had dealings with her, including those who traded with England. This explains why the earliest copies of the bull were distributed to the Spanish Netherlands and Poland, both of which were contiguous to regions or cities that had trade or diplomatic links, or both, with England. However, attempts were also made to distribute translations of the bull. Both Jesuits and seminary priests were involved in this dangerous task when the bull was renewed in 1580. Yet ironically it was Protestant reactions to the bull that contributed as much as any other factor to disseminating knowledge of its contents, as can be seen in the English translation of Heinrich Bullinger's reply, which summarized the original bull at some length.
Andrea Radošević makes a compelling case for the argument that translators of biblical passages from Latin performative texts into Croatian used archaisms derived from Croatian Church Slavonic in order to make their text more persuasive. This was because their audience would have been familiar with this kind of language from its place in the liturgy. In this way they adjusted the Latin text not only for lay people but also for priests with limited education. Alena Fidlerová, in her acute analysis of a translation into Czech of a late seventeenth-century German life of the Antichrist by the Capuchin preacher, Dionysius of Luxemburg, reminds us of the linguistic diversity of early modern Moravia and Bohemia; however, as a consequence of the re-Catholicization of the area after the defeat of Catholic forces at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, Czech subsequently lost out to German. Nevertheless, in testimony to the enduring significance of the Czech language, despite its lesser prestige, there were at least three entirely separate Czech translations of this German work, which have remained largely invisible since they circulated in manuscript.
The demanding or ‘needy’ nature of relics described by Anne Lester is also encountered in Jennifer Hillman's article on the seventeenth-century fate of the finger of the third-century noble virgin martyr, St Pience. Here we see that by the early modern period the capacity of relics to generate a paper trail had in no way diminished, whether it be passages in visitation records that confirmed their legitimate translation to the private chapel of the duke and duchess of Liancourt at La Roche-Guyon or the 1628 vita authored by Nicolas Davanne. Hillman argues that such relics were evidence of the capacity of local post-Tridentine devotion to preserve such particular cults, but also that, in this particular case, the deployment of this cult in such a way confirmed the owners’ ‘deviant’ form of rigorist, Jansenist sympathies.
In his wide-ranging and thought-provoking survey of the many ways in which missionaries attempted to understand non-European peoples in order better to convert them, Joan-Pau Rubiés makes an eloquent case for the need to consider not only their frequently impressive empiricism and systematic nature, but also their essential contribution to the early modern Republic of Letters. In particular, the evidence of cultural diversity that the missionaries brought back and disseminated in print came to be deployed as propaganda in favour of what were not only Christian but also colonial enterprises; moreover, it also offered evidence to use against the attempts of sceptical and atheist freethinkers to undermine the ‘Christian project’. It would, however, be anachronistic to view the missionaries simply as ‘proto-ethnographers’, for, as Rubiés points out, we need to acknowledge fully the religious (specifically soteriological) purpose of their endeavours. We must also be aware of the role of local mediators in such cultural translation, whose contributions make it facile of us to insist on any sharp dichotomies between the Old and New Worlds, traditional and modern, or East and West. Rubiés leaves us with the provocative thought that perhaps an even greater act of translation was that carried out by those attempting to apply the implications of their discoveries to the religious challenges of the Old World.
Michael Smith takes the case study of uses of the Bible in post-Restoration England to argue that Holy Scripture was deployed to manage and foster feelings according to biblical precedent. By demonstrating how biblical citations were appropriated for their readers’ own prayers and to frame their devotional activity, a practice which crossed lines of conformity, Smith takes issue with the commonly held view that the period saw both a cooling off in spiritual engagement and increasing religious division.
The next three articles, by Andrew Finch, James Grayson and Kirsteen Kim, all address the various ways in which Christianity was translated – both linguistically and culturally – by missions to east Asia. Finch focuses on the work of two missionaries to Burma – the Italian Barnabite, Vincenzo Sangermano (fl. 1783–1806), and the French vicar apostolic of the Missions étrangères de Paris, Paul Ambrose Bigandet (fl. 1838–94) – to show how the first stage in missionary translation was the challenge of understanding the dominant faith of the society being proselytized, in this particular case Theravāda Buddhism. Finch shows how the translation strategies adopted by Sangermano and Bigandet involved complex linguistic journeys: in the case of Bigandet, from Burmese or Pali to (probably) French, then English and then once more back into French. Moreover, for this French missionary, as for many of Rubiés's missionaries in a slightly earlier period, translations of texts from a non-European faith were informed not only by the desire to understand better ‘the enemy’ in order to defeat them in the missionary field, but also by the wish to demonstrate to those in Europe that such non-Christian texts were defective and ‘wrong’. As Finch puts it at the close of his article: ‘Implicit in Bigandet's interpretation of Burmese Buddhism is a defence of Christianity in Europe.’Footnote 20 For John Ross (1842–1915), the protagonist of Grayson's compelling account of the first translation of the New Testament into Korean, China remained the chief preoccupation of his career and energies as a missionary in north-east Asia. Indeed, because Korea was a ‘closed’ country, Ross was unable to penetrate the country in person (only briefly visiting it on a single occasion in 1887), and so his mission was his translation. Furthermore, it was one that also ‘spread literacy [in Korea], promoted a sense of nationalism in difficult times [particularly under Japanese occupation], and left an important linguistic record of a regional dialect for use as a resource for scholars’.Footnote 21 In a contrasting approach to the Korean Christian Church in a later period, 1895–1910, that of its most rapid growth, Kirsteen Kim argues that in order to understand fully this phenomenon we need to move beyond Sanneh's translation theory, which Kim convincingly critiques, and consider instead the ‘reinvention of the Church’ in the sense inspired by John Parratt's work on Christian theology in Africa.Footnote 22 This alternative approach, she argues, gives more space to the agency of those on the receiving end of missionaries’ efforts. Viewed from this perspective, as Kim concludes, ‘Christianity was not so much translated into the Korean vernacular as it was reinvented to serve the need for the independence and modernization of the nation in its darkest hour.’Footnote 23
Esther Liu looks at the work of the French Protestant missionary to Africa, François Coillard (1834–1904), to argue that such missionary-translators still have something to say to translation theory today. Echoing Venuti's preoccupation, cited above, that translators should keep their work ‘visible’ to the eyes (and ears) of their audiences, Coillard evidently believed that they should be both visible and invisible. On the one hand, he carefully presented his own (not inconsiderable) public profile as Christian missionary and translator, but on the other, he equally consciously tried to withdraw from centre stage in his own field work. As he put it in his account of his own work in Lesotho, echoing Christ's own sacrifice: ‘It is [the] gospel and not the preacher which is the power of God’.Footnote 24 In addition, the entirely collaborative nature of Coillard's translation practice has a contribution to make to current translation theory, in which the translators’ craft is still often (mis)understood as taking place in isolation.
Building on the idea of translation as rewriting and thus as reinterpretation in terms of the categories and values of the target language, as theorized by the Belgian André Lefevere (1945–96), Jenny Wong considers the translation and reception of Shakespeare in China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and specifically at The Merchant of Venice. She notes how, traditionally, Chinese translations excised religious references in the play, but asks whether, with the economic and cultural ‘opening’ of China from the 1980s, such untranslatability might be overturned. The degree to which the very notion of enforced religious conversion is alien to Confucianism and Taoism, which champion social harmony and order, suggests otherwise.
Margaret Wiedemann Hunt considers the translation work undertaken in 1941 by Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957) from the Greek New Testament for her twelve-part radio dramatization of the life of Christ for the BBC, The Man Born to be King. Sayers is undoubtedly better known as the creator of the fictional protagonist of the popular series of detective novels, Lord Peter Wimsey, published in the 1920s and early 1930s, and then, at the end of her career, as the translator of the widely distributed Penguin edition of Dante's Divina Commedia (1949–62). Hunt places Sayers's radio adaptation of the life of Christ, which reached over two million listeners, in the wider context of her role as a lay Christian apologist. This included Sayers's idea for what she referred to as her ‘Oecumenical Penguin’, which was to be an accessible one-volume presentation of the ideas shared by the mainstream Christian denominations. Although this particular project never came to fruition, The Man Born to be King was clearly intended to fulfil a similar need for a translation of theology into terms that were comprehensible to the ‘general reader’. How better to do this than to dramatize the life of Christ? As Hunt shows, although the words Sayers gave to Christ himself were close to the New Testament text, she did take imaginative liberties in the dialogue she wrote for other protagonists, including the apostles. Hunt concludes with a plea for more work to be done on Sayers's role as a leading practitioner of the literary arts in the name of Christianity in the middle decades of the twentieth century.
In what is in many ways a complementary article exploring the use of modern audio technology in translating Christianity to reach unprecedentedly numerous audiences, Darin Lenz looks at the work of the missionary Joy Ridderhof (1903–84). Unable to continue her work in the field owing to illness, Ridderhof sought to fulfil her ambitions to communicate the gospel to those who otherwise would not hear it by having recourse to the still-new technology of the phonograph, founding Gospel Recordings in 1939.Footnote 25 Ridderhof began by producing recordings in Spanish, but soon branched out into making recordings in many of the indigenous languages of central and south America, which facilitated access to ‘primitive peoples’ (for which read ‘illiterate’) who had not yet been exposed in any sustained fashion to stories from the gospels. After first using non-native speakers to record the stories and prayers, Ridderhof later took great care to employ indigenous speakers of the tongues being recorded so that her project has, inadvertently, become something of an archive of minority languages which have subsequently died out. Finally, Lenz leaves us with the subversive possibility that many of those who heard these recordings were actually ‘converted’ to the medium – which by the 1960s included ingenious hand-cranked phonographs made cheaply of cardboard – rather than to the gospel message itself.
R. J. W. Shiner also addresses the matching of medium to message in his illuminating article on how Donald Robinson rose to the challenge of translating the faith in Australia and helping Australians ‘speak to God’ by bringing sensitivity and principle to the drafting of the 1978 Australian Prayer Book. Shiner makes the important point that Robinson's failure to reverse the tide of secularism should not be conflated with a failure in either the conception or implementation of the prayer book, but must rather be viewed in the wider context of the ‘death of Christian Australia’ (at least the white Western mainstream), which arguably reached its high watermark precisely in the 1970s.Footnote 26
The volume closes with Joel Cabrita's thoughtful and richly satisfying discussion of the nineteenth-century religious movement founded by a Scottish immigrant to Illinois, the Edinburgh-born John Alexander Dowie (1847–1907), who founded the city of Zion as part of a Protestant divine healing movement. This first took root in Illinois before being exported to South Africa where it was reimagined by Isaiah Shembe (1870–1935). In 1910 Shembe in turn founded the Nazareth Baptist Church in a very different context of Southern African territorial dispossession and racial segregation. Despite its transatlantic origins, this Church has been viewed by scholars, including the missionary historian Bengt Sundkler and the anthropologist Jean Comaroff, as an expression of Afro-Christian indigeneity.Footnote 27 By contrast, Cabrita argues compellingly that both Churches should be understood as responses to the common challenges of the demand for cheap labour by industrialization and of its impact on health, whether these be located in the railroad and commodity hub that was Chicago or in the consequences of the actions of the gold-hungry mine owners of the Transvaal. This has implications, she argues, for how we should go about understanding the ways in which Christianity was ‘translated’ to sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast to the still widely influential paradigm framed by Sanneh with which I opened this introduction, Cabrita highlights the potential dangers of African essentialism and the need to be open to the ways in which localization of Christian belief was achieved by means of transnational reception and reinterpretation.
Such a picture of cosmopolitan localism is an appropriate point at which to bring to a close this introduction to a volume devoted to the translation of Christianity and circulation of the sacred. If, as has been recently restated by Charles Taylor, language does not merely describe but constitutes meaning and shapes human experience, and linguistic capacity is not something that we innately possess, then it follows that we first learn our language from others, so that our separate selves emerge out of the conversation.Footnote 28 We ourselves come into being through a process of translation. These articles are intended to be contributions to that ongoing conversation: long may it continue.