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  • Reformed Orthodoxy

Our Translation Philosophy

Every translation project at begins with transcription. Using optical character recognition (OCR), we are able to reformat the contents of Latin facsimiles—which are rarely searchable and sometimes illegible—into digital, readable, searchable online texts. We are committed to transcription because we value Latinity and accountability nearly as much as translation. We always supply the original Latin text in a parallel column alongside our English translation. This affords skilled Latinists the opportunity of appreciating the precision of the source Latin and its congruence with the English rendering; amateur Latin students, on the other hand, may find it to be a useful tool for learning new words, phrases, or syntactical constructions. No matter what degree of proficiency is possessed by our readers, providing the source text alongside its corresponding English text affords us the means of improving any deficiency in our translations by way of user feedback. If you notice any error or ambiguity adverse to translational accuracy, we ask that you bring it to our attention as soon as possible. Even the best translations can be suboptimal at points, but by making our translations capable of immediate correction by a wide readership, we hope to curate near perfect translations with relative ease.

With these transcribed texts in hand, our translators bring them into English in a manner proportionate to our principal aim in translation. Our translation philosophy is founded on principles of accuracy, clarity, and historical sensitivity. We strive to maintain the integrity of the original text while avoiding solecisms in our English rendering. In order to communicate the sense of the source, however, our translators err on the side of rustic imitation rather than florid paraphrase, especially with regard to words and phrases whose frequent use or theological/philosophical status demands a special degree of propriety in translation. For, though there is sometimes an obscurity in scholastic Latin idiom, there is more often a perspicuity about it, which nothing better preserves than a close, nearly literal translation of technical phrases. It would be uncomely to translate the general idea of a common scholastic word or dictum rather than the terminus technicus itself. A few examples may sufficiently explain our meaning.

Terms which are of great philosophical significance will invariably be translated according to a strict mode even though their import is more precise than what their translation may convey:

  • a parte rei → on the part of the thing

  • Distinctio rationis ratiocinatae → distinction by reasoned ratiocination

  • Distinctio rationis rationans → distinction by reason reasoning

The ambiguity of the first translation is one of its strengths, since the Latin phrase admits of some polyvalence. Those who have not been exposed to the logical distinctions regularly employed by early modern authors may not easily grasp the proper meaning of the last two phrases from their English translation. Ambiguity, though, is not the only difficulty we face when translating scholastic terms nearly literally, as evinced in the examples below:

  • realiter / literaliter / figuraliter → really / literally / figuratively

  • formaliter / materialiter → formally / materially

In each of these cases, it is likely that the translation, instead of puzzling the ordinary reader, will tend to communicate the wrong idea with little difficulty. The vexing problem of the word “literally” is too trite to be touched upon. Terms like “really,” “formally,” and “materially” are also used by early modern philosophers in a much different way than contemporary English speakers.

English philosophy and theology, as well as everyday parlance, have been tinctured with Latin to such a degree that some phrases are more intelligible when left entirely untranslated:

  • a priori / a posteriori

  • Communicatio idiomatum

Despite this prevailing concern for preserving scholastic phraseology, even in the face of potential obscurity, our team is not intent on producing unreadable English metaphrases, which translate the more mundane portions of Latin prose verbum pro verbo. The signification of the words is the thing to be translated. Where a close attachment to the signs fails to signify the sense, we offer new words to our authors so that they might speak with greater lucidity. When communicating the sense more freely, however, one occasionally finds that translators, to the detriment of the reader and against the intention of the author, detrude the author’s language below its original register. In a somewhat counter-intuitive manner, too great a concern for comprehensibility often makes the meaning impenetrable. In order to avoid this, our translators give due regard to the fulsome language of the author as well as the sublimity of his subject matter.

Our translators employ several strategies to successfully translate texts according to the principles exhibited above. By making use of all the traditional translation tools at their disposal, the most recent advances in machine translation, and a thorough post-editing process, our translation team is able to provide an ideal English version of our Latin source texts.

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