THE ANGELS' SONG
"Glory to God in the highest,
and peace on earth to men of good will."
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The exultant "Gloria in excelsis Deo" hymn of the Roman rite Latin Mass has echoed down the centuries from innumerable Catholic cathedrals and churches. It has been sung in the various modes of Gregorian chant, as well as in multiple polyphonic renditions.
This ancient hymn of the Church begins by quoting the song of the angelic choir on the night of Christ's Birth transmitted to us in the Gospel of St. Luke according to the Latin Vulgate: "Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis1." And this remains even today the official Latin text of the Novus Ordo, the Latin Mass as revised in accordance with Vatican II's norms. This Latin text has always been translated literally and correctly: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will." --until, that is, ICEL,2 following some questionable textual criticism of the Greek text of St. Luke, changed this ancient and correct translation to: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth"--the text sung now throughout the English speaking Church.3
The original English translation: "...peace to men of good will," is of great importance and accuracy, however. And throughout The Poem of the Man-God,4the masterwork of the great contemporary Italian mystic Maria Valtorta, this is the translation that is consistently used in the Italian original and often referred to in various reminiscences about the night of Christ's Birth throughout the Poem, and in her other mystical writings.
In the brief article presented here, Valtorta's editor and publisher, Dr. Emilio Pisani, discusses this particular phrase of the angelic song of Christmas, showing the importance and implications of the more correct ancient translation: "peace to men of good will." Dr. Pisani's treatise has been translated for this Website from his Italian bi-annual "Valtorta Bulletin"5for the purpose of helping Valtorta's readers to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Night.
"CHRISTMAS is near when we prepare the new number of our Bulletin. If we wanted to put in it best wishes to our readers using the words of the choir of angels, related by the evangelist Luke,1 we would not know if we should say "peace to men of good will" or "peace to men whom God loves."
In fact, for the translation "to men of good will," based on the Vulgate of Saint Jerome and proposed again by the Church in the "Gloria" of festive Masses, there has been substituted for some decades the translation "to men whom He loves," or else "to men with whom He is pleased,"6 -- which is reported in almost all modern editions of the Bible, including that of the Italian Episcopal Conference.
An interesting philological and theological comparison between the two different translations has been sent to us by don Saverio Gianotti, a Salesian residing in Rome, who defends the traditional expression, used also in the Work of Maria Valtorta [The Poem of the Man-God ]. Let us elaborate on it with our own words, less learned but no less convinced, while adding some reflections.
"Gloria to God in the highest and peace on earth to men. . .": --which men?
If we follow it with "of good will" we translate literally the Greek word eudok (genitive of eudok), from which we derive the Latin translation bonae voluntatis ("of good will"), and our own. Both translations, Latin and Italian, yield a single meaning: not for all men is this peace, but only for those who have good will.
The Greek, which is the source text, lends itself instead to two interpretations, where the word eudok refers to men if taken as a subjective genitive (men who have good will towards God)7; and it refers to God if taken as an objective genitive (men who receive) God's good will. The second meaning is that of the new translation "peace on earth to men whom He loves": God would grant peace to His predestined or even to all, without looking at the will of man.
In order to be guided in the right choice between the two opposed interpretations, we must leave the philological field and pass on to the field of theology.
The peace promised by the angels is tied to the announcement of the Birth of the Messiah, come to redeem humanity and precisely to re-establish peace between earth and Heaven, compromised by sin. But can the Redemption, source of peace, profit anyone, or only those who have willed [wanted] to welcome it? Does the loving Will of God suffice to save man and return his pristine peace, or is there also required a corresponding good will in man?
It seems to us that one cannot prescind from the will of man without distorting the design of God for the New Covenant, which presupposes the meeting of two wills: the Divine and the human, with the mediation of Christ the Redeemer. Moreover, if we discard the value of the human will, we confirm the Protestant doctrinal position from which, in fact, issues the translation "peace to men whom He loves."
Indeed, it is just a Protestant, Gottlob Schrenk, professor of New Testament at Zurich, who reminds us of the different Catholic position, writing apropos of the Greek word, eudok:
The interpretation of the Latin Church (men of good will) shows the signs of an origin hinging on justice through works, inasmuch as it considers good will as determinant for salvation; therefore such a translation has also been explained thus: the redeeming act would be real and effective only for those who open themselves to the grace of God and respond to it with willing assent.8
The free will of man, constantly sought by God's infinite Love, is a guiding thread in the Work of Maria Valtorta. In her Work, there are no personages, small or great, who are not measured by their own capacity of adhering to the action of God, or by their stubbornness in rejecting it. Two examples, among the most representative: Mary of Magdala, who willed [wanted] to redeem a life of sin; Judas of Kerioth [Iscariot], who did not will [want] to, and broke a life of election.
God wills [wants] that all should be saved, without geographical limits, without privileges of race, of traditions, of culture, without any other discrimination that is not the free choice of man -- from whom is required at least the will not to oppose any resistance to the benefit of redemption. The most willing, then, welcome it to the point of empowering it with their own offering of love and sacrifice, equivalent to a contributing co-redeemer. Thus the new people -- of men of good will -- arises and is formed, rendered partakers of the Kingdom which has no limits.
We must rediscover the inestimable value of human free will, necessary for strengthening peace with God, from which derives true peace among men. This is the wish we make to our readers on Christmas."
-- Emilio Pisani
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2. ICEL: the official International Committee for the English Liturgy, established after Vatican II to provide an official and uniform English translation for the Church's liturgy. It has been increasingly criticized, however, for its gauche, often erroneous, and frequently "edited" English translations.
3. The Sacramentary, (Catholic Book Publishing Company, New York, 1985): 365.
4. Maria Valtorta, The Poem of the Man-God, trans.,
Nicandro Picozzi and Patrick McLaughlin (Centro Editoriale Valtortiano srl,
1986-1990), 5 Volumes, hardbound, $35.00 U.S. Distributed (among others) by
Saint Raphael's Publications Inc., 31 King St. W., Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada,
J1H 1N5, and in select bookstores in the U.S. See also links to other Valtorta
Sites given on this Website.
6. Or: "to his people on earth," the translation used in the States from the English Sacramentary (see note 3 above).
7.It is precisely this traditional
rendering as a Greek subjective genitive (...to men of good will), which
is repeatedly cited and insisted upon by Christ (and the Shepherds) throughout
The Poem.... Likewise throughout Valtorta's other Visions and Locutions
recorded in her Quaderni [Notebooks], Christ emphasizes this
traditional rendering of Luke 2:14 and thus exegetes its meaning.
Indeed, the most recent modern textual criticism in fact seems to support this subjective genitive form, eudok, as the more probably authentic reading. Cf. Theological Dictionary of the Bible, II, (Ed., Gerhard Kittel, Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Cushing-Malloy, 1966): 748, and Note 41. However, this classical Protestant Greek/English Dictionary nevertheless imposes a typically Protestant interpretation on the genitive form as referring rather to God's good will toward men, rather than the traditionally Catholic understanding of men's good will in accepting and cooperating with God's salvation for it to be effective.
8. Grande Lessico del Nuovo Testamento, Ediz. Italiana, Paideia, Brescia, Vol.3, Col. 1139.