Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
|ASCENT OF MOUNT CARMEL|
By St John of the Cross, OCD
Introductions to Ascent of Mount Carmel
TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
FOR at least twenty years, a new translation of the works of St. John of the Cross has been an urgent necessity. The translations of the individual prose works now in general use go back in their original form to the eighteen-sixties, and, though the later editions of some of them have been submitted to a certain degree of revision, nothing but a complete retranslation of the works from their original Spanish could be satisfactory. For this there are two reasons.
First, the existing translations were never very exact renderings of the original Spanish text even in the form which held the field when they were first published. Their great merit was extreme readableness: many a disciple of the Spanish mystics, who is unacquainted with the language in which they wrote, owes to these translations the comparative ease with which he has mastered the main lines of St. John of the Cross's teaching. Thus for the general reader they were of great utility; for the student, on the other hand, they have never been entirely adequate. They paraphrase difficult expressions, omit or add to parts of individual sentences in order (as it seems) to facilitate comprehension of the general drift of the passages in which these occur, and frequently retranslate from the Vulgate the Saint's Spanish quotations from Holy Scripture instead of turning into English the quotations themselves, using the text actually before them.
A second and more important reason for a new translation, however, is the discovery of fresh manuscripts and the consequent improvements which have been made in the Spanish text of the works of St. John of the Cross, during the present century. Seventy years ago, the text chiefly used was that of the collection known as the Biblioteca de Autores Españoles (1853), which itself was based, as we shall later see, upon an edition going back as far as 1703, published before modern methods of editing were so much as imagined. Both the text of the B.A.E. edition and the unimportant commentary which accompanied it were highly unsatisfactory, yet until the beginning of the present century nothing appreciably better was attempted.
In the last twenty years, however, we have had two new editions, each based upon a close study of the extant manuscripts and each representing a great advance upon the editions preceding it. The three-volume Toledo edition of P. Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz, C.D. (1912-14), was the first attempt made to produce an accurate text by modern critical methods. Its execution was perhaps less laudable than its conception, and faults were pointed out in it from the time of its appearance, but it served as a new starting-point for Spanish scholars and stimulated them to a new interest in St. John of the Cross's writings. Then, seventeen years later, came the magnificent five-volume edition of P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D. (Burgos, 1929-31), which forms the basis of this present translation. So superior is it, even on the most casual examination, to all its predecessors that to eulogize it in detail is superfluous. It is founded upon a larger number of texts than has previously been known and it collates them with greater skill than that of any earlier editor. It can hardly fail to be the standard edition of the works of St. John of the Cross for generations.
Thanks to the labours of these Carmelite scholars and of others whose findings they have incorporated in their editions, Spanish students can now approach the work of the great Doctor with the reasonable belief that they are reading, as nearly as may be, what he actually wrote. English-reading students, however, who are unable to master sixteenth-century Spanish, have hitherto had no grounds for such a belief. They cannot tell whether, in any particular passage, they are face to face with the Saint's own words, with a translator's free paraphrase of them or with a gloss made by some later copyist or early editor in the supposed interests of orthodoxy. Indeed, they cannot be sure that some whole paragraph is not one of the numerous interpolations which has its rise in an early printed edition -- i.e., the timorous qualifications of statements which have seemed to the interpolator over-bold. Even some of the most distinguished writers in English on St. John of the Cross have been misled in this way and it has been impossible for any but those who read Spanish with ease to make a systematic and reliable study of such an important question as the alleged dependence of Spanish quietists upon the Saint, while his teaching on the mystical life has quite unwittingly been distorted by persons who would least wish to misrepresent it in any particular.
It was when writing the chapter on St. John of the
Cross in the first volume of my Studies of the
Spanish Mystics (in which, as it was published in
1927, I had not the advantage of using P. Silverio's
edition) that I first realized the extent of the harm
caused by the lack of an accurate and modern
translation. Making my own versions of all the
passages quoted, I had sometimes occasion to compare
them with those of other translators, which at their
worst were almost unrecognizable as versions of the
same originals. Then and there I resolved that, when
time allowed, I would make a fresh translation of the
works of a saint to whom I have long had great
devotion -- to whom, indeed, I owe more than to any
other writer outside the Scriptures. Just at that
time I happened to visit the Discalced Carmelites at
Burgos, where I first met P. Silverio, and found, to
my gratification, that his edition of St. John of the
Cross was much nearer publication than I had
imagined. Arrangements for sole permission to
translate the new edition were quickly made and work
on the early volumes was begun even before the last
volume was published.
Concentration upon the aim of obtaining the most
precise possible rendering of the text has led me to
sacrifice stylistic elegance to exactness where the
two have been in conflict; it has sometimes been
difficult to bring oneself to reproduce the Saint's
often ungainly, though often forceful, repetitions of
words or his long, cumbrous parentheses, but the
temptation to take refuge in graceful paraphrases has
been steadily resisted. In the same interest, and
also in that of space, I have made certain omissions
from, and abbreviations of, other parts of the
edition than the text. Two of P. Silverio's five
volumes are entirely filled with commentaries and
documents. I have selected from the documents those
of outstanding interest to readers with no detailed
knowledge of Spanish religious history and have been
content to summarize the editor's introductions to
the individual works, as well as his longer footnotes
to the text, and to omit such parts as would interest
only specialists, who are able, or at least should be
obliged, to study them in the original Spanish.
In language, I have tried to reproduce the atmosphere of a sixteenth-century text as far as is consistent with clarity. Though following the paragraph divisions of my original, I have not scrupled, where this has seemed to facilitate understanding, to divide into shorter sentences the long and sometimes straggling periods in which the Saint so frequently indulged. Some attempt has been made to show the contrast between the highly adorned, poetical language of much of the commentary on the 'Spiritual Canticle' and the more closely shorn and eminently practical, though always somewhat discursive style of the Ascent and Dark Night. That the Living Flame occupies an intermediate position in this respect should also be clear from the style of the translation.
Quotations, whether from the Scriptures or from
other sources, have been left strictly as St. John of
the Cross made them. Where he quotes in Latin, the
Latin has been reproduced; only his quotations in
Spanish have been turned into English. The footnote
references are to the Vulgate, of which the Douai
Version is a direct translation; if the Authorized
Version differs, as in the Psalms, the variation has
been shown in square brackets for the convenience of
those who use it.
The long and weary process of revising the
manuscript and proofs of this translation has been
greatly lightened by the co-operation and
companionship of P. Edmund Gurdon, Prior of the
Cartuja de Miraflores, near Burgos, with whom I have
freely discussed all kinds of difficulties, both of
substance and style, and who has been good enough to
read part of my proofs. From the quiet library of his
monastery, as well as from his gracious
companionship, I have drawn not only knowledge, but
strength, patience and perseverance. And when at
length, after each of my visits, we have had to part,
we have continued our labours by correspondence,
shaking hands, as it were, 'over a vast' and
embracing 'from the ends of opposèd winds.'