Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quasimodo Sunday

It is today. And it is named for the words spoken at the beginning of mass (the Introit): “Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite…” “Like newborn babes just born into the world, [may you] reasonably crave [pure, spiritual] milk…” This is also called the Easter Octave, thus the eighth day following Easter Sunday.

Now most may think, having forgotten the details of Victor Hugo’s novel, that somehow the Catholic Church has named this Sunday after the hunchback. Au contraire. Quasimodo got his name because the priest who found the badly-deformed child on the door steps of Notre Dame did so on that Sunday—or, as Hugo himself suggests, giving both quasi and modo a more modern slant, maybe the archdeacon meant to say that the child was unfinished, quasi-made. In any case, quasi means “as” and modo in context means “just,” thus the text  literally begins “As just-born infants, etc.” The text used here comes from the first letter of Peter, 2:2.

The Biblical text is translated into Latin here with certain freedoms—or else English translations take liberties. I don’t know which. The King James version is: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” The Modern Language version: “Like newborn babes, be thirsty for the unadulterated spiritual milk.” The Revised Standard: “Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk.” The New English Bible: “Like the new-born infants you are, you must crave for pure milk (spiritual milk, I mean).” Finally, the Jerusalem Bible: “You are new born, and, like babies, you should be hungry for nothing but milk—the spiritual honesty which will help you to grow up to salvation.” I feel a little queasy about that seemingly inserted rationabile; whatever its origin, translating it as sincerity omits the element of the rational, taken barely; that word hints at the presence of an intellectual translator—into the Latin.


  1. Also, "cannonball Sunday"...after the crowds on Easter Sunday, on this Sunday you can fire a cannonball from the pulpit, have it pass out the rear of the church...and not hit a single soul.

  2. The Douay-Rheims Bible translates 1 Peter 2.2 as:

    "As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow unto salvation..."

    and after a long time, I think I would try it as:

    "As newborn babes, be openly desirous of the milk which gives (mature) understanding..."

    I think as "rationabile" as akin to "vernünftig" in meaning, and think of it as meaning "mature", "sound", "judicious", etc. Instead of "rational", there is more a sense of "leading to a judicious understanding".

    How some translators got "spiritual" milk is a conundrum... and it does appear to be a painful twist of meaning.

    1. I like your rendition as "understanding." Vernünftig communicates to me--indeed I ought to have checked a German bible (there is one around here somewhere). I'll keep in mind that you are a linguist next time I'm struggling with Latin. Thanks.

  3. Wow! Of course.
    I just checked and it is:

    und seid begierig nach der vernünftigen lauteren Milch wie die neugeborenen Kindlein, damit ihr durch sie zunehmt zu eurem Heil,

    and there it is.

    But the other translations were so lacking in a common-sense sound and meaning, that it had to be "vernünftig" in a much less philosophical sense, and a more homely, everyday sense: "rational" verges on the bizarre in the translation! Rational Milk, indeed!

  4. And "Vernünft" itself can be tricky, because I spent so much time reading Kant...

  5. Thanks for that, Montag. And you've the whole issue--not least my feelings of something being out of joint. In German Vernunft has has the privileged status of being used both for the straight-forward street-wise meaning of commonsensical as well as the higher sense in philosophy of rationality.


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