Translating Visibilium Omnium et Invisibilium

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Translating Visibilium Omnium et Invisibilium

ROME, 31 MAY 31 2011 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Continuing our reflections on the new translation of the Roman Missal, we now turn to the creed. Last Sept. 28 we treated the meaning of "consubstantial" and why it is a better translation than "one in Being."

Another novelty in the creed is the translation of "visibilium omnium et invisibilium" as "all things visible and invisible" rather than "all that is seen and unseen" as in the current translation.

The first point to be underlined is that the new translation uses the word "things" and not just the generic "all that." This apparently slight adjustment does a better job of bringing out the fact that each and every creature, including ourselves in our concrete individual existence, is an object of God's creative will and of his fatherly love. The expression "all that" is not necessarily inaccurate but could lead to a more abstract notion of creation and a more distant concept of the Creator.

I believe that the literal rendition "visible and invisible" is not only more accurate than "seen and unseen" but also better reflects the philosophical and theological history behind the use of these terms.

In Christian philosophy and theology an invisible creature pertains to the spiritual realm beyond physical reality.

In this sense, "invisible" is not synonymous with "unseen." If I were to hide behind a curtain, I would be unseen, but I would certainly not be invisible. Even the fictional "Invisible Man" felt hot and cold and would bleed if he stepped on a nail.

We sometimes use the term "invisible" to refer to physical realities in the infrared or ultraviolet spectrum shielded from our normal vision, or to radiation, radio waves and all sorts of forces. All of these realities pertain to the physical world, and although they are unseen by our eyes they are detectable and measurable by specialized instruments. Hence, philosophically and theologically they might be unseen but are not invisible.

The new translation of the creed, in using the term "invisible," affirms with greater clarity the reality of the spiritual realm beyond the physical. This reality is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (even though this work obviously refers to the former translation of the creed).

"325. The Apostles' Creed professes that God is 'Creator of heaven and earth.' The Nicene Creed makes it explicit that this profession includes 'all that is, seen and unseen.'

"326. The Scriptural expression 'heaven and earth' means all that exists, creation in its entirety. It also indicates the bond, deep within creation, that both unites heaven and earth and distinguishes the one from the other: 'the earth' is the world of men, while 'heaven' or 'the heavens' can designate both the firmament and God's own 'place' — 'our Father in heaven' and consequently the 'heaven' too which is eschatological glory. Finally, 'heaven' refers to the saints and the 'place' of the spiritual creatures, the angels, who surround God.

"327. The profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) affirms that God 'from the beginning of time made at once (simul) out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and then (deinde) the human creature, who as it were shares in both orders, being composed of spirit and body."

"328. The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls 'angels' is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition."

It is to be hoped that future editions of the Catechism will incorporate the new and more accurate translation of the creed.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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