Sunday, 30 October 2022

Is Nostra Aetate Saying Buddhists Can Actually Achieve Complete Liberation?

Φιλολoγικά/Philologica: From Ratzinger's New Letter · New blog on the kid: Is Nostra Aetate Saying Buddhists Can Actually Achieve Complete Liberation?

I feel a need to exonerate Nostra Aetate from an accusation made by Taylor Marshall. Not because I think Vatican II is a council, but because reasons disqualifying it should be chosen elsewhere than in clumsy translations to English. I'll quote from some lines in NA that Taylor Marshall impugned, in italics, and my own translation below. With italics used only for emphasis.

Ita in Hinduismo homines mysterium divinum scrutantur et exprimunt inexhausta fecunditate mythorum et acutis conatibus philosophiae, atque liberationem quaerunt ab angustiis nostrae condicionis vel per formas vitae asceticae vel per profundam meditationem vel per refugium ad Deum cum amore et confidentia.
Thus, in Hinduism men are scrutinising the divine mystery and expressing an unexhausted fertility of myths and acute tries at philosophy, and search for liberation from the anguishes of our condition, either by forms of the ascetic life or by profound meditation or by taking refuge to God with love and confidence.

In Buddhismo secundum varias eius formas radicalis insufficientia mundi huius mutabilis agnoscitur et via docetur qua homines, animo devoto et confidente, sive statum perfectae liberationis acquirere, sive, vel propriis conatibus vel superiore auxilio innixi, ad summam illuminationem pertingere valeant.
In Buddhism according to its various forms the radical insufficiency of this mutable world is admitted and a way is taught by which men, with devoted and confident courage are supposed to be able to acquire a state of perfect liberation, or in other words by their own efforts or leaning on superior help attain supreme illumination.

Sic ceterae quoque religiones, quae per totum mundum inveniuntur, inquietudini cordis hominum variis modis occurrere nituntur proponendo vias, doctrinas scilicet ac praecepta vitae, necnon ritus sacros.
The same way other religions also, which are found in all of the world, try to propose ways to in various manners meet the unquiet of men's heart, namely doctrines and life precepts not forgetting sacred rites.

Ecclesia catholica nihil eorum, quae in his religionibus vera et sancta sunt, reicit. ...
The Catholic Church rejects nothing of the things which in these religions are true and holy. ...

Now, in my translation of the comment on Buddhism, I gave two major divergences from the official English translation. For "sive X, sive Y" I have not translated "either X or Y" but "X or in other words Y" as "sive" is in Latin such a weak opposition that the alternative may often be one about word choice rather than concept. The other diverging translation is "are supposed to be able" for "may be able" ... the thing translated is a Latin subjunctive and the default translation is "may" for present subjunctive and "might" for preterite imperfect subjunctive. Now, to an English ear "may be able" suggests "I can't exclude they are able" but it's really expressing their intention to be able, and so (as this intention is in fact unrealistic) the translation "are supposed to be able" is in fact better.

Now, how does the text continue?

Sincera cum observantia considerat illos modos agendi et vivendi, illa praecepta et doctrinas,
With sincere observation She considers the modes of acting and living, those precepts and doctrines,

quae, quamvis ab iis quae ipsa tenet et proponit in multis discrepent,
which, while in much they are in discord with the ones which She Herself is holding and proposing,

haud raro referunt* tamen radium illius Veritatis, quae illuminat omnes homines.
nevertheless not seldom transmit* a beam of that Truth which enlightens all men.

It would seem the council, whether false or true, is on this exact issue saying:

  • Christ - the Way, the Truth and the Life - is the light of all men
  • He shines on pagans too
  • and some parts of each paganism reflect His light,
  • but "one beam at a time" rather than full day light.

In each paganism, the discrepancies or discords from the Catholic teaching are of two types:

  • basic error;
  • error in application of principles in and of themselves true

and obviously, while what discords from the Catholic teaching cannot be absolutely and correctly true, it can be misapplication of what is basically true. For instance, I'll take the example from a non-conformist, he can accept the truth of Matthew 5:32 without fully understanding it. Like, Mr. X marries a divorcee, he puts her away, because of adultery, and now even her former husband cannot take her back ... because doing so would be taking a divorceee. This is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, but it is some kind of understanding of Matthew 5:32. Similarily, some erroneous parts of paganisms are in fact misapplications of truths - not simple head on collisions with them.

So, no, I do not think Nostra Aetate is right here doing publicity for Buddhism, I think Taylor Marshall is reading a "may be able" in a subsidiary clause of Latin to English translation as a "may be able" in colloquial English, without this being the correct translation of the passage. The "may be able" of colloquial English would not be "valeant" but "possunt valere" or "forsitan valent" which is very much not the actual text of the document.

But is there any other error in section 2? Let's look a bit earlier.

Iam ab antiquo usque ad tempus hodiernum apud diversas gentes invenitur quaedam perceptio illius arcanae virtutis,
Already from antiquity and all the way to the time of today, in diverse peoples is found some perception of the hidden power

quae cursui rerum et eventibus vitae humanae praesens est, immo aliquando agnitio Summi Numinis vel etiam Patris.
which is there at the course of things and the events of human life, and even sometimes a recognition there is a Supreme Numen or even Father.

So far, no problem.

Quae perceptio atque agnitio vitam earum intimo sensu religioso penetrant.
Which perception and recognition penetrates their lives by an inner religious sense.

Religiones vero cum progressu culturae connexae subtilioribus notionibus et lingua magis exculta ad easdem quaestiones respondere satagunt.
But religions with the progress of culture connected** to subtler notions and a more cultivated language fuss about to answer the same questions.

Do we have a case for the "council fathers" trying to dogmatise the idea that religious expression come from a "religious sense" instead of from either true or false revelations or from a kind of makeshift for such?

Do we have a case for them saying that religious expression changes as culture progresses and as language is honed out into precise terminology? And for notional content of religions being simply parts of such changing expressions? Or a case for them to be rehashing a recent anthropological idea "Monotheism is more advanced than Pantheism which is more advanced than Animism" or "Buddhism is a more advanced form of Pantheism than the seemingly Polytheistic Hinduism is" and so on?

On the one hand, if you apply such ideas to the True Revelation, this is one of the errors of Modernism. On the other hand, the condemnation of modernism didn't directly condemn the idea this was at least correct about the false religions. However, the thing is, false religions arguably do have more precise (if not more divinely truthful) sources. And the words about Hinduism having an "unexhausted fertility of myths" rather than a few main stories that arguably reflect conditions before the Flood and soon after the Flood*** doesn't sit well with me either. Ratzinger recently stated that the council made a radically new theology of the religions (namely outside Christianity). I unfortunately have to agree - this theology is a "novum" - meaning it is non-traditional. Clearly inferior to what Medievals would have had to say.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Feast of Christ the King

I used:


and occasionally glanced on:


* I translated "referunt radium" with "transmit a beam" - and obviously a beam can be transmitted by reflection or refraction in directions not intended by the original light source.
** Classicising Latin, had to look up the translation, or I would have taken "connexae" as qualifying "culturae" rather than "religiones" - sth which Medieval Latin tends to avoid. Also had to look up satago - with "struggle" one could also use "fuss" or "have the hands full" ...
*** I place Mahabharata into the pre-Flood era and Ramayana into the post-Flood era, as historical events, with the actions obviously mixed with false and pagan explanations of how and what really happened.

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