Introducing Wenden House and the Davenant Fellows


Last month, New Saint Andrews launched their new Reformation translation program, Wenden House for Reformation Studies.  This program aims to capitalize on the extraordinary Latin curriculum that NSA has had in place for many years, and its rigorous theologically-anchored liberal arts program, in order to equip the next generation of Latin scholars to bring key Reformation and early modern texts to the contemporary church.  The project consists of three distinct elements.  The first is a translation of Lambert Daneau’s Ethicae Libri Tres for the Acton Institute’s Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law; this will be undertaken by the college’s Latin professor, Timothy Griffith.

Dr. Benjamin Merkle

Dr. Benjamin Merkle

The second is a translation of Jerome Zanchi’s De Tribus Elohim, supervised by Dr. Benjamin Merkle, who used the text extensively in his Oxford dissertation (this dovetails neatly, it should be noted, with the Davenant Trust’s sponsorship of the Junius Institute’s digitization of Zanchi’s complete works).  This project will be primarily carried out by two Davenant Fellows, Rachel Jo and Angela Filicetti, admitted to the College’s graduate program with scholarships provided by the Davenant Trust, along with the assistance of an undergraduate, Michelle Bollen.  They will also likely translate occasional smaller texts alongside this multi-year project.

The third element is a rigorous curriculum of translation studies, including classes on Reformation theology and philosophy, Reformation-era Latin, translation theory, library science, and more, which the two Davenant Fellows will be required to take, in addition to their further studies.  This curriculum is being developed with the assistance of Mr. Peter Escalante of the Davenant Trust.

Last week, Brad Littlejohn had a chance to interview Ms. Jo, and Ms. Filicetti, the two Davenant Fellows, about their studies and their participation in the program.  

Angela Filicetti, Davenant Fellow

Angela Filicetti, Davenant Fellow

Both young women were homeschooled, but did not really study Latin until their freshman year at NSA.  Both recount it as an experience of love at first sight, although Rachel recalls dreading it beforehand: “I thought it was going to be my least favorite class.”  Angela declared that the class was “the reason I stayed at NSA longer than a year.”  Both had enjoyed Spanish in high school, and found that Latin opened up to them a fascination with language in general.  Rachel said, “I like language for the way it changes your perspective . . . you end up thinking about the world in an entirely different way.”  For Angela, this new fascination meant that she was contemplating pursuing a graduate degree in Linguistics after receiving her B.A. from New Saint Andrews this past spring.  When she heard about the Wenden House program, though, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to dig deeper into Latin and translation theory; in fact, both Angela and Rachel explained that so rigorous was the New Saint Andrews undergraduate Latin program that they had done almost no translation before; they were simply called upon to read texts, up to and including the whole of Vergil’s Aeneid, in the original.

Rachel Jo, Davenant Fellow

Rachel Jo, Davenant Fellow

For Rachel, despite her interest in languages, medical school was on the horizon after her bachelor’s degree, and is still probably her eventual destination (while an undergraduate at NSA, she was also enrolled at the University of Idaho, taking pre-med classes).  But the opportunity of “getting to translate something that has never been translated before” was too much to pass up, and in any case would give her the opportunity to reconsider whether she might want to pursue advanced studies in the humanities instead.  Besides, she thought, the graduate school’s well-rounded M.A. program in Theology and Letters, which would be a required part of her participation in the Wenden House project, would provide a solid base of theology, literature, and philosophy that would be useful in any further study or career, a sentiment Angela warmly echoed.  Both were particularly interested in taking courses in Christian ethics, and hoped to have the opportunity to translate texts related to ethics in the course of their Wenden House studies.

Somewhat surprisingly, given Wenden House’s focus on Reformation studies, neither Angela nor Rachel had studied much Reformation theology and history at all.  In the first two weeks of class, they said, Dr. Merkle had been giving them a crash course in the field, opening their eyes to key Reformation figures, such as Zanchi, that they had never before encountered.  Angela noted that the most interesting thing for her thus far had been discovering just how entangled theology and politics were during the time of the Reformation, and in Zanchi’s own work.  It brought home to her the fact, she said, that this material they were translating was “not just something for scholars. It actually mattered.”

Although they’re still just beginning to learn their way around the Reformation era, they have already started trying their hand at translating Zanchi’s De Tribus Elohim, and said that they had found it surprisingly easy thus far, certainly much easier than Vergil, although there is a steep learning curve in adjusting to the distinctive vocabulary of Reformation-era Latin.  Angela explained that they were surprised to find just how easy to understand Zanchi’s thought patterns were; for all the distance between the sixteenth century and today, Zanchi, as an early modern, seemed to occupy recognizably the same thought-world as we do today, much more so than an ancient Roman.

Girolamo Zanchi

Girolamo Zanchi

New Saint Andrews, Angela and Rachel explained, is making every effort to facilitate this project.  They and Michelle, the undergraduate participant, have been allocated a special reading room outfitted with 16th- and 17th-century texts purchased for the program, resources to aid translation (such as Richard Muller’s indispensable Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms), anda projector screen to make joint translation easier.

Angela and Rachel are optimistic that this new program is going to be a big success, and expect to make rapid progress through Zanchi’s heavy tome in the coming months.  New Saint Andrews plans to establish a website on which to share excerpts of the translation as they become available, eventually publishing the whole work both online and in print form.  Stay tuned for more news from them and us as this project progresses.