Pope Pius XII, Apostolic Letter, In Cotidianis Precibus - On the new Latin Psalter and its use in the Divine Office
March 24, 1945
Following the Example of her divine Redeemer and His apostles the Church has from her earliest beginnings made constant use of those illustrious songs which the holy prophet David and other sacred writers composed under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit. They occupy a place apart in the official prayer that priests recite each day in praise of God's goodness and majesty, for their own needs, and for those of the universal Church and of the entire world.
It should be remembered, however, that the Latin Church possesses these psalms as a heritage from a Church whose language was Greek. Originally translated almost word for word from Greek into Latin, they were in course of time given a number of careful corrections and revisions, most notably by the "Greatest Doctor" in the Sacred Scriptures, St. Jerome. But these corrections did not remove many of the obvious inaccuracies occurring already in the Greek version, inaccuracies which leave the force and meaning of the original (Hebrew) text quite obscure. As a result the generality of Latin readers still could not grasp with ease the sense of the sacred psalms. -
And it is a well-known fact that St. Jerome himself was not satisfied with having offered the Roman world that ancient Latin translation, even in his own "most diligently corrected" edition. With even greater diligence therefore he set to work translating the psalms directly from "the Hebrew truth." However this latter translation of St. Jerome never came into general use in the Church. Instead his revised edition of the old Latin version, now known as the Gallican Psalter, gained such widespread popularity that finally Our sainted predecessor, Pius V, decided to include it in the Roman Breviary, thereby prescribing it for practically universal use.
Now in preparing this edition of the psalms, St. Jerome had made no effort to eliminate its obscurities and inaccuracies; his sole purpose was to correct the Latin text in accordance with the better Greek manuscripts. In our day, however, these obscurities and inaccuracies are becoming ever more glaring. For recent tines have witnessed remarkable progress in the mastery of oriental languages, particularly Hebrew, and in the art of translation. Scholarly research into the laws of meter and rhythm governing oriental poetry has advanced apace. The rules for what is called textual criticism are now seen in clearer light. In various countries, moreover, many excellent vernacular translations of the psalter were published with the Church's approval, translations based on the original texts. These publications have made increasingly apparent the exquisite clarity, the poetic beauty, the wealth of doctrine those hymns possess in their original tongue.
It is not at all surprising, then, that a good many priests began to hope for a new Latin version of the psalms for their daily use. The hope was a very praiseworthy one, springing as it did from their endeavor to recite the canonical Hours not only with sincere devotion but with fuller understanding as well. What they desired was a Latin psalter that would bring out more clearly the meaning the Holy Spirit had inspired, that would give truer expression to the devout sentiments of the Psalmist's soul, that would reflect his style and his very words more exactly. This eager wish was voiced repeatedly both in books written by learned men of high repute and in various periodicals. The matter was furthermore referred to Us by not a few Ecelesiastics and Bishops and likewise by members of the Sacred College of Cardinals.
Now as We explained not so very long ago in the Encyclical Letter Divino Affiante Spiritu, We are, in keeping with the profound reverence We cherish for the words of divine Writ, determined on this: no pains, no energy is to be spared in making it possible for the faithful to perceive ever more plainly the meaning of the Scriptures as intended by the Holy Spirit who inspired it and as expressed by the sacred writer.
We fully appreciated, of course, what a difficult undertaking this would be. We realized, too, how intimately bound up the Latin Vulgate is with the writings and interpretations of the Holy Fathers and Doctors, how by its long centuries of use it has obtained in the Church the very highest authority.
Nevertheless We decided to comply with these devout wishes and gave orders that a new Latin translation of the psalms be provided. It was to follow the original texts, follow them exactly, faithfully. At the same time it was, as far as possible, to take into account the venerable Vulgate along with other ancient versions, and to apply sound critical norms where their readings differed. Not even the Hebrew text, as We are well aware, has reached us altogether free from error and obscurity. It needs to be compared with other texts that have come down to us from ancient times with a view to discovering which of them renders the sense more true and exact. In fact there are times when, even after every help that text criticism and a knowledge of languages can offer has been exhausted, the meaning of the words is still not perfectly clear and their more definite clarification will have to be left to future study.
Still we are confident that today, thanks to the painstaking use made of all the latest findings, it has been possible to provide a translation of the psalms such as was desired. It presents their meaning and content clearly enough to enable priests reciting the Divine Office to grasp readily what the Holy Spirit intended to convey by the lips of the Psalmist; clearly enough, too, for them to be stirred up by the divine words and urged on to true and genuine piety.
Now that the professors of Our Pontifical Biblical Institute have completed the longed-for new translation with the diligence befitting such a task, We offer it with fatherly affection to all who have the obligation to recite the canonical Hours daily. After due consideration of all the issues involved, We hereby of Our own free choice (motu proprio) and upon mature deliberation permit them to use it, should they wish to do so, in either private or public recitation as soon as it has been adapted to the psalter of the Roman Breviary and published by the Vatican Printing Office.
We hope that this pastoral solicitude and fatherly affection of ours for the men and women who have dedicated their life to God will prove helpful to them. May it assist them all to draw ever more light and grace and comfort from their Divine Office. May those benefits open their eyes in these days of bitter trial through which the Church is passing, and inspire them to conform their lives more and more to the examples of holiness that shine forth so radiantly in the psalms. Let them nourish and cultivate in their hearts those sentiments of divine love, vigorous courage and sincere repentance to which the Holy Spirit moves us as we read the sacred plalms.
What We have decided and decreed by this motu proprio (letter) shall have the force of law, anything to the contrary notwithstanding, whatever it may be, even though worthy of very special mention.