quod pro nobis traditum est

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Full of Grace - God's Doing

The KJV omits "full of grace" in the Annunciation account of Luke 1, at least in an online version I use. It really should not be surprising due to the origins of the translation. However, it is somewhat surprising because it is a traditional standard and, being "traditional," I thought it would retain the wording. Origen draws attention to this wording noting that he does not remember seeing this wording elsewhere in Scripture. His recognition of these words underlines the fact that this wording has early origins. A look at the Greek translation confirms this wording with "kecharitoméne" (we are familiar with the "gratia plena" of the Vulgate).

The above are basic exegetical findings. Couple this with the following. At a General Audience on May 8, 1996, Pope John Paul II discussed the meaning of the title "full of grace," saying, "Everything in Mary derives from a sovereign grace. All that is granted to her is not due to any claim of merit, but only to God's free and gratuitous choice." (EWTN)

A traditional Bible omits some of the text. A Pope speaks of non-meritorious grace. Maybe, it is not always a good thing for the Bible to be alone.


Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. May:

You make some interesting points, yet I would respectfully challenge an aspect of your argument.

It's not quite accurate to say that the KJV "omits" "full of grace." What it does is translate kecharitomene in a different way than Douay does. Both "full of grace" and "highly favoured" are acceptable translations, and despite the polemical claims of some of their adherents, neither inherently denies the truthfulness of the other.

"Full of grace" in Douay is not because Douay is any more "traditional", but simply because it is not chiefly a translation from the Greek (which is not to say that it is necessarily a bad translation). It is explained, rather, by the fact that Douay is a translation directly from the Vulgate.

"Highly favoured" in KJV is not due to a denial of Mary's holiness, or that she was indeed full of grace. Rather, it is due to the nature of that translation, namely, that it is based more directly upon the Greek.

I believe you are mistaken in supposing that the origins of KJV are somehow suspect in this regard, unless you can show that the makers of that translation were opposed to the grace and holiness in Mary. I would put the Marian views of the Protestants of that age up against most Christians today.

Likewise, the Blessed Reformer does not translate this as "full of grace" either. (And this is part of the reason KJV doesn't.) Yet that does not mean that he thought less of Mary's holiness than did his Roman opponents. Consider that in his Personal Prayer Book, he does have the traditional Ave Maria, and says explicitly in explaining it that "In the first place, she is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin-something exceedingly great. For God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil," etc. "Bible alone" is certainly not Luther's theology.

The "highly favoured" rendering is not an inherent Protestantism, and we needn't fear it. Likewise, the "full of grace" rendering is not an inherent Romanism; (it does not have embedded within it a doctrine of gratia infusa, as some suggest) and we needn't fear it. As we see in Luther, in fact, both formulas can be affirmed simultaneously.

So my own approach is to adjust my practice according to the context. That is, I believe that the public, liturgical, reading of the scriptures should use the KJV, since that is what it was designed for. (The Douay, by contrast, has never been used in that way, as far as I know.) And when I use the Ave in my own prayer life, I use the "full of grace" translation, when I don't use the Latin, since it is the classic, Latin formula.

Fr. Timothy D. May said...


Thank you for this response. When I made the post I realized that some of the points I might bring response from those more knowledgeable about some of these things. Usually my posts are simply posts of a simple pastor and not that of a church official nor official church theologian. Therefore most of my posts will not be as informative as hoped by some.

As your response is quite long I will respond to some of the points you make without hopefully losing out on the original point my post is making.

First of all I see no conflict in "full of grace" or "highly favoured." Therefore, I accept "full of grace" as an acceptable translation.

When I wrote the post I was thinking of the KJV and the particular wording so no other translation was in my mind at the time. As one can see, I jumped directly from the KJV to the
Greek and Latin without addressing other translations.

As I did not pit the Douay against the KJV, neither do I question the origins of the KJV. The KJV is clearly a protestant translation, at this I was alluding and most readers hopefully catch that. I thought it unnecessary for the focus of the post to draw undue attention to this fact. I agree that the protestants of that day would have a more "biblical" view of Mary than most protestants. (My how things have changed.)

I agree that Luther and the Lutheran Confessions do not hold to the Scripture alone theory. Neither do I fear a "gratia infusa." As we know Luther would not be able to hold many of his views in our circles if he were alive today.

Finally, this is not a post about liturgical translations, simply an exegetical observation. I happened to add "full of grace" in my reading of the text where I found it absent. So, yes, this post is somewhat an apology for that translation although I would not see this as being in conflict with "highly favoured," either exegetically or theologically.

Hopefully, this addresses your concerns. I bring this up obviously in light of the Annunciation. Reading the KJV and an observation by Origen on this text shifted my focus from a reformation focus to a pre-reformation focus as is fair for anyone studying the text.
Finally, the statement by the pope caught my eye in light of what I found.

In short, and back to the point of the post, just as I accept the gratia plena rendering (I do not pit the Greek and Latin against each other) so I accept that this is God's doing. And this again is underlined by the final point being that Scripture is not alone.

Seriously, I hope we are not getting nervous that the Blessed Reformer and a pope or popes might have some areas of agreement.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

First I must insist on pointing out that you are much more than a "simple pastor." You should give yourself more credit. I don't dialogue with slouches; they bore me.

I would also add to this discussion that, I could be wrong, but I think it is mistaken to conclude that in Origen's comments he had in mind either "full of grace" or "gratia plena." Since he operated in Greek, I am thinking he was simply commenting on kecharitomene. Which means, in my view, that his comments are worthy of note, yet do not prove what some Catholic writers might have us believe, that "full of grace" is a superior translation.

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

Thank you for your clarification re: Origen. Thanks too for the compliment.

The reference to Origen was not meant to defend a gratia plena rendering but rather to show the early recognition of wording that he could not find elsewhere in Scripture (ie, kecharitoméne). In other words, Origen recognized that this word was applied only to the Blessed Virgin.

After looking at both the Greek and Latin I am not attempting to say either the "highly favoured" or the "gratia plena" is "superior" to the other. Within the immediate context and including the Scriptural Tradition both renderings tell us something about the mystery of God's choice of Mary and her role in the Incarnation.