Into the Deep
One of the great privileges of seminary formation is the opportunity to study different languages such as Spanish, Greek, Latin, or maybe even Hebrew. While the pastoral applicability of learning Spanish might seem obvious and the ability to read the nuances of Hebrew and Greek might seem equally beneficial for fostering solid preaching which is rooted in the Holy Scriptures, one might wonder: what good is it for seminarians to study Latin?
I remember my first time learning that seminarians were studying Latin. I was attending the “Duc in Altum” diocesan men’s discernment retreat, and two seminarians were discussing the title of the retreat. “Did you know that duc in altum can also be translated, ‘lead into the heights’?” The other seminarian responded, “Yes, however, I think the fact that they are on a boat lends circumstantial credence to the traditional ‘put out into deep water’ translation.”
It was a funny little interaction they had in which a provocative idea was shot down pretty quickly by the obvious, and yet, it was telling as to one advantage of approaching the Scriptures in a language that is not our own. When we approach the Scriptures in a new language, our disposition of struggling to translate and make sense of what is happening will often lead us to be struck by details which otherwise pass us by as obvious. Working out the grammar and searching our memory for vocabulary often reminds us of the need to read the scriptures with attention to detail, to seek out the ways the Lord is speaking to us in His Word.
Reflecting on the same “Duc in altum” passage recently, I was struck by St. Peter’s reaction to the great catch of fish the Lord provides. We expect to find him “astonished” at the size of the catch, but the Latin Vulgate captures the scene in a different light. “Stupor enim circumdederat eum.” There is an English cognate with the word “stupor”, a sense of insensibility, but what about the long word, “circumdederat”? A word which is notable for its length and for its being fun to try to pronounce, “circumdederat” is also known for resounding at significant times during the Holy Week liturgies, especially when we hear that Jesus is stripped and surrounded by a purple garment to be mocked and again in Psalm 22 when the suffering servant is surrounded by many fierce bulls and dogs. In this instance on the sea, “stupor enim circumdederat eum” means that St. Peter is surrounded by insensibility. He has just encountered the Lord, who is the Light of the World, and similar to St. Paul who is blinded in his encounter with the Lord, St. Peter is attempting to make sense of the world in this new light, the Light of Christ.
Studying the scriptures in a new language, while a bit disorienting at times, provides us an opportunity for continual conversion as we are drawn closer to the Lord who constantly surrounds us with His love, a reality and a mystery whose blinding insensibility often strikes our hearts the deepest.