Reading update

I hear they got off to a bad start this season.

But if you’re talking about books, then I just finished a new(ish) Dutch translation of St. Bernard’s treatise in response to questions posed by two Benedictine monks about various aspects of monastic life.

Like so many works, Voorschrift comes with an Introduction. As a rule I’m not used to these, because when younger I never seemed to come across them in the Tribble-like volumes of Sweet Valley High or Trebizon that inhabited my bedroom (if you’re going to look down on me because of my pre-teenage reading choices…well then you’re just mean). Once I started reading Real Literature And Stuff, I become acquainted with the dilemma: should I skip the dry essays and get to what Charlotte Brontë actually wrote, or instead give in to the perfectionism and battle my way through all those pages numbered from i to xlviii?

Having no previous exposure to St. Bernard’s works and suffering from an Autumn weather-induced spell of finnickitiness, I decided to brave the Intro. Was it worth it? Yes and no. No, because I really do not have much patience with something added on to a work which also has the added value of plumping up the book’s thickness by about 25% (at a guess). Yes, because this Intro does give some useful background information about and insight into why the Voorschrift was written in the first place, and that kind of knowledge is exactly what I was lacking.

As a non-native Dutch speaker who has (despite the odds) reached a decent level of fluency, complete with a vigorous skepticism about anything written in Dutch about anything related to Catholicism, reading the Intro pointed me to a prejudice I have against Dutch-language works interpreting Catholic authors. I have simply read far too many articles and books in which the writer had an ulterior motive: to twist the nasty, strict and inhuman Catholicism to better suit modern-day Dutch sensibilities, which latter simply translates to something like, ‘I want to feel all warm and fuzzy and “spiritual” inside but hell if I’m going to accept that the Church can tell me how to go about it.’

It was a surprise, therefore, to be partway through the Intro and realise that for once I didn’t feel as though I was spoken down to by someone who felt that authentic Catholicism was just not hedendaags enough. Dare I say it was a pleasant surprise? Almost – I’m not letting my guard down that easily!

Once into the text itself – as with all such things, the actual work is so much easier to read than the Intro – I realised just how much I’ve been missing by not (yet) getting round to St. Bernard. The way in which a text, essentially an interpretation of a law (here, the Rule of St. Benedict), yet carries a – this is the wrong word, but the closest approximation I can come up with – warmth that you do not find in statute books nor their commentaries.

Hurrah for St. Bernard, then! But hurrah, too, for the translator. Translation is, in my experience, enormously satisfying, but draining at the same time. It remains necessary, however, especially for a Dutch-speaking public which is progressively less and less proficient in reading 12th century Latin.

So with all that out of the way, the inevitable question was: what to read next?

I found this under my bed:

1Q84But it really is a bit daunting. Instead I’m plumping for this:

I’ll let you know how it goes.



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