The Task of Translation

A message from Davenant Institute Vice-President, Peter Escalante.
The Davenant Institute was formed to further the aims of a circle of friends and collaborators for the betterment of the commonwealth and the churches. One of those aims was and is ressourcement, the turn ad fontes; we announce this in our motto, adtendite ad petram unde excisis estis, “look back to the rock whence you were hewn”.

One of the faces of the ancient stone whence we were hewn is the tradition of the doctors and men of letters of the Reformation and the Reformed Church, too long lost to us due to a triple inaccessibility. The new archival and printing media have surmounted the first problem: the rarity of the classic works. But many of these treasures, although readily available now in one form or another, lie locked up in Latin, a language which few now read. We could wait for the revival of classical education to advance to a point where, like the 19th century and before, almost all educated men (and I trust that word will be taken in the generic sense) will read Latin with ease. But as fast as that revival gains ground, it will still be some long time before we can simply count on widespread fluency, and we need what these masters can teach us sooner than that.

If you’ve been counting, you know there is one thing more which stands between the common churchman—including most pastors—and these texts, and this too, like the strictly linguistic problem, is a problem of translation. Hans-Georg Gadamer, himself writing in a long tradition of Protestant hermeneutics, said that there is often a gap between writers distant from us in time and place; to understand them, we need to “unify the two horizons”, those of the writer, and our own. 

The history of Christendom can be said to be a history of translation. We are all familiar with the reversal of Babel at Pentecost, and the fact that the Bible is written in three languages, and that from the beginning of the Christian faith Christians were willing to render the sacred Word into the language of the hearers. As Dr Remi Brague has noted, the structure of Christendom is made of translation without total assimilation; languages and peoples are drawn into a sort of perichoresis without losing their abiding distinctiveness.

Translation movements have driven almost every major development in the history of the Latin West.

The 12th century translation movement in Western Christendom saw the rendering of many scientific and philosophical works from Arabic, at that time the leading language of civilization, into Latin, and at roughly the same time, there was a turn to Greek, whose ablest practitioner was doubtless William of Moerbeke, who restored Aristotle to Europe by translating his works, the chief beneficiary of which was Thomas Aquinas.

This interest in Greek continued into the Renaissance, which was fueled in large measure precisely by the translation of Greek classics, both pagan and patristic. 

The Reformation was a part of this movement, of course. Luther  did more than translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German in a merely superficial rendition, he delved deep into the meaning of keywords and restored their true sense against prevalent and deleterious misinterpretations, most famously, “faith” and “repentance”.

Impelled by concerns for historical-grammatical understanding of the sacred text, Protestants ventured out from Hebrew into its sister languages, Aramaic and Syriac and Arabic, and Papalist scholars, needing to reply to the results of Protestant philological inquiry, likewise patronized these disciplines and research projects.

But in our time, the forgetting of classical language arts in favor of a universalizing media discourse has affected the churches as much as it has affected the wider commonwealth. We have become too reliant on manuals which bottleneck the broad tradition on the one hand and unmoored speculation on the other. This is true of learning in general now, and certainly true of theological learning. Our time puts before us the task of translating the lost tomes of learning for the renewal of our teaching and our life, very much like the age of William of Moerbeke.

It is to answer this need that we have launched the Davenant Latin Institute. We hope that it will do its own humble part in the years ahead to equip a small army of new translators, renewing the life of the church in our own age.

Course Schedule

Jan. 23–May 12, 2017:
LAT522—Introduction to Theological Latin, Part II (Flexible Version)
LAT602—Intermediate Theological Latin Reading, Part II
LAT701-3—Advanced Theological Latin Reading Tutorials

Feb. 13, 2017: Registration opens for Summer 2017 courses

May 22-27, 2017:
Residential Intensive Intro Latin (at Davenant House)

June 5-30, 2017:
LAT511: Intensive Intro to Theological Latin, Pt. I

July 10-Aug. 4:
LAT512: Intensive Intro to Theological Latin, Pt. II

Aug. 21-Dec. 8:
LAT501: Introduction to Theological Latin, Pt. I (Standard)
LAT521: Introduction to Theological Latin, Pt. II (Flexible)
LAT601: Intermediate Theological Latin Reading, Pt. I
LAT703: Advanced Early Modern Latin Reading


Do I need to be a graduate student or seminarian to participate?

No, in fact, you do not need to currently belong to an academic institution at all. Pastors, teachers, and independent scholars are welcome as well, although most of our students are currently enrolled at graduate students or seminaries.

I'm not sure which level my current Latin ability is at. Which course should I enroll in?

No problem. We have four placement exams, which can help us and you determine if you are ready for the Intro Part II, the Intermediate Part I, Intermediate Part II, or Advanced levels. If you’re interested in enrolling but aren’t sure, make your best guess in selecting your course, and then we’ll invite you to take the appropriate placement exam, after which we can re-assess if necessary.

Is there a drop/add date?

We will not normally be allowing students to join one of the classes after the registration deadlines for each course. Students needing to drop a class will be eligible to receive a 60% refund if they drop within the first three weeks of a semester-long course or first week of an intensive course. Students dropping out of a tutorial course may do so at any time and will be refunded $25 for each tutorial unit not yet completed.

How do the live classes work?

All of our live classes use the state-of-the-art videoconferencing software, WebEx, which should work reliably for you as long as you have access to an average-speed internet connection. Recordings of each class, and any “whiteboards” used, will be saved for students who were unable to make a particular class meeting.

Does it matter what time zone I am in?

It is important that you be in a position to participate in most of the live classes in order to discuss the lessons and your work with your professor and classmate. It is our goal to schedule live class times that will fit within normal waking hours for all enrolled students, wherever they live on the globe, though obviously the times will be more convenient for some than others. We will determine the scheduled class times around the registration deadline for each course, depending on the available times indicated by all enrolling students. If the resulting time does not work for you, you will have the option of switching to a self-paced or tutorial approach.

Will I receive credit toward my degree?

Yes, you can. The decision about exactly what credit to award rests with your particular degree-granting institution, however, we currently have credit-recognition agreements in place with three institutions:

You can enroll as a part-time student at any of these institutions to receive credit which you can then transfer back to your home institution. We are in the process of hammering out similar agreements with other institutions. Also, you may request case-by-case credit recognition from your own institution and we would be happy to correspond with your academic officer to help make this possible. We have designed these courses so as to meet accreditation standards for graduate-level theological education, but we are not ourselves a degree-granting institution, and each institution makes its own decisions about if and when to award credits for courses offered by third parties.

Are scholarships available?

Yes, we do offer scholarships for tuition discounts or in rare cases complete tuition coverage. Scholarships are awarded to students in difficult financial circumstances who can demonstrate strong academic ability and discipline, and the importance of these courses to their studies. Scholarships are very competitive, and we have worked to price these courses well below market averages, so we ask that you not apply if you are in a position to pay full tuition. To apply, click here.

Note: Scholarships are not available for tutorials.

What can I do to best prepare in advance for the classes?

Draft syllabi, along with recommendations from our instructors, will be sent out well in advance to all enrolled students.