Louis de Poirot (1735–1813 or 1814)
No AdditioN, omissioN or rephrAsiNg is Allowed, orNAmeNtAl lANguAge thAt FAils to CApture the truth is Just A puFF oF Air
From “Guxin shengjing zaixu” 古新聖經再序 (Another Preface to [the Translation of] Old and New Holy Scripture), collected in Ming Qing jian Yesu huishi yizhu tiyao 明清 間耶穌會士譯著提要 (Summary of the Publications by Jesuits during the Ming and the Qing), Volume 2
There are two types of people who read. The first type comprises those who have a sincere desire to seek the truth. These people do not mind whether the language is plain [sú 俗] or eloquent. To them, it is sufficient and acceptable as long as they learn the truth. Aren’t these people wise? They treasure what ought to be treasured. It is, after all, the truth that really matters. If a piece of writing is stylistically dazzling but not truthful, what is it other than a mere puff of air? There is another type of people who read simply to pass the time. These people only care about how abstruse the meaning of the text is, whether the writing conforms to accepted rules, whether it is something they have never read before, or whether it is unusual or lively. If the book meets none of these criteria, or if the language is not embellished [shì 飾], they will feel bored and put the book down, not wanting to read it any more. These people will definitely be unimpressed by the Bible I have translated. However, these people who will not be impressed are not striving for spiritual benefit to begin with. They are just seeking something to please their eyes and ears. This only goes to show that they do not quite understand the origins of things. Why is that? The Bible was not written according
to man’s will. It is God’s own words recorded by the apostles. If God had intended to use some wonderful style, being omniscient, He would definitely have produced a book with extremely beautiful style. He refused to do that, because He meant to teach people to love, learn, and follow the teachings. Thus, He deliberately used plain language to elucidate things again and again, so that both the clever and the ignorant would easily understand and bear in mind the important teachings. It is man’s soul that God attaches great importance to. He makes no distinction between the clever and the ignorant, and could not bear to see millions upon millions of people unable to benefit from the Bible; their souls would never be saved, just because they could not understand a book written in a style accessible to only a few. Since this is God’s holy wish, how can people who translate the Bible go against His wishes? The translation should have to adhere to the original; it is not for man to add, delete or alter the wording. Some may suggest that, in order to show our admiration and respect for God’s words, and gratify the wishes of the learned, it would do no harm for translators to adopt a middle style that is neither too high nor too low. My response is: this was what an extremely accomplished person in the Holy Religion, by the name of Hieronymus [St. Jerome, c. 347-419/420], had thought at first. This person had been reading the works of ancient scholars for decades. It later occurred to him that pagans had thought little of the Bible because the words were too commonplace and the expressions too plain [sú 俗]. He made up his mind to bring glory to the Bible. He chose a book of Cicero [106-43 BCE] as a model, and emulated Cicero’s elevated style in translating the Bible. One night, angels appeared to him in a dream with a whip and reprimanded him. Lashing him all over with the whip, the angels derided him, saying: you are a disciple of Cicero and we have come especially to repay you. When Hieronymus woke up, the angels were not to be seen, but the saint felt sore from head to foot and there were lash marks all over him. He thus knew that he had not followed God’s will, so he stopped. The saint wrote to a friend of the fellowship and described in detail what had happened, saying: you should not think that this was but a dream; several days have passed, yet I still feel sore and the lash marks are still there. When the cart ahead has overturned, the one that follows should take warning. I dare not be careless or disobedient to God, for fear of inviting His wrath.