Friday, January 09, 2015

The Story of Feminanity, Vol. 1, by Justo Gonzalez

Professor Gonzalez has anticipated that some uneducated fundamentalists would take note of his translation of a letter by Pliny the Younger (61AD-113).  This tells of the Roman governor's dilemma as he tortures two Christian slave girls.  The traditional English translations refer to these women as "deaconesses", but Gonzalez uses the term, "ministers".  This immediately caught my eye, even before I found out that the full English translation of this series of Pliny's letters was separately included in our course translations and also used the word, "deaconesses".

Professor Gonzalez thus gives this topic a suitable delay, and then forcefully establishes his authority in the matter:

" ... Governor Pliny informed Trajan that he had ordered that two Christian female ministers - ministrae - be tortured." - The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, pg. 114

Ouch.  I stand corrected.  The Church clearly had female Ministers from the earliest times.  Just to be 100% sure, I checked the Latin edition and found that he was correct:

"Quo magis necessarium credidi ex duabus ancillis, quae ministrae dicebantur, quid esset veri, et per tormenta quaerere." Letters of Pliny, Book X, 96

But then just for fun, I put the Latin into Google translate, and miraculously, ministrae in Latin translates to deaconesses in English!  Why not "minister"?  Google translate certainly isn't the final word in translation, so we need to gives this some more looking.  How about the 1910 Encyclopedia Brittanica:

"The word minister as originally used in the Latin Church was a translation of the Greek diakonis, deacon; ..."

OK, so deacon wasn't originally a Latin word, but the Latin Bible, the Vulgate, transliterated the Greek, διάκονος, into the Latin, diaconus".  Pliny couldn't have used diaconus, because this was a church Latin of a later age.  Instead, he used ministrae, because this was the proper translation of διάκονος into Latin.

To finish this off, let's look at an entry from the Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary:

"minister (L. servant) ... 4. There is no Catholic usage of the word to mean an ordained cleric as is the fashion of Protestantism."

Or to put it another way, the modern Protestant usage of the word, minister, is very much different from the Latin, ministrae, of 100AD.  Instead, the modern word, deaconesses, is the appropriate translation.

I am beginning to think that the point of reading The Story of Christianity centers on the errors.  If there weren't glaring errors, I would snooze through reading the book, but since every other page smells of something rotten, I have some motivation to do some research and track things down.  Yeh!

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