mardi 8 mars 2016

Le vocabulaire de la miséricorde


Le mot miséricorde est une invention latine. Attesté chez Cicéron et César, soit au premier siècle avant notre ère, il désigne ce qui advient lorsque l’on regarde la misère avec le cœur, compassion et pitié.
Si c’est un mot latin, quels mots hébreux ou grecs traduit-il ? Il n’y a pas d’équivalence à ce mot dans la bible hébraïque, pas plus que dans le nouveau testament grec. « La » bible latine (couramment appelée la Vulgate, fin du 4ème siècle) utilise environ 430 fois la racine. Tertullien, premier écrivain latin chrétien, qui meurt vers 220, utilise le terme.
Trois mots hébreux comme grecs sont rendus, mais pas systématiquement, par miséricorde. Le premier est amour (ḥesed) ou fidélité selon les traductions françaises. On le trouve par exemple dans le Ps 135/136. « Car éternel est son amour », « kî le‘ôlâm ḥaseddô » est rendu en latin par « quoniam in aeternum misericordia eius » et en grec par « eis ton aiôna to eleous autou ». La racine de eleos est connue à travers la seule trace de grec dans la liturgie, kyrie eleison, Seigneur, prends pitié.
La miséricorde est l’expression du cœur de Dieu devant la misère de son peuple. Par deux fois en Dt 26, qui reprend Ex 3, il est dit que Dieu a vu la misère de son peuple. La raison de l’Exode est anticipée dès l’époque du Père des croyants par le Deutéronome.
En Is 54, 8 on lit : « Débordant de fureur, un instant, je t’avais caché ma face. Dans un amour éternel (beḥesed ‘ôlâm / en eleei aiôniô / in misericordia sempiterna), j’ai eu pitié de toi (riḥamettîḳ / eleèsô se / misertus sum tui), dit Yhwh, ton rédempteur. » Dans ce verset, en hébreu, apparaît la racine d’amour et une autre racine qui a le sens des entrailles. La miséricorde est ici le sentiment viscéral que l’on éprouve devant l’autre, le sentiment de la mère prise au ventre par la situation de ses enfants. Le grec et le latin traduisent deux fois de la même manière. Mais le grec connaît aussi une expression de la miséricorde en rapport avec les entrailles. Ainsi en Luc 15, le père fut pris de pitié traduit le grec esplagchnistè que le latin avait rendu par « misericordia motus est » Par la miséricorde, Dieu est définie de façon maternelle, féminine.
La troisième racine hébraïque (hnn) est traduite en grec par eleos que le latin rend en conséquence par misericordia. Elle signifie montrer sa faveur, être bon, avoir pitié. On la trouve par exemple dans le psaume 55/56 : « Pitié pour moi, ô Dieu, on me harcèle, tout le jour des assaillants me pressent. »
En Lc 1,50, on traduit son amour s’étend d’âge en âge, ou sa bonté, ou sa miséricorde, tout comme le latin, là où le grec porte eleos. Peu après le Magnificat, au verset 78, dans le second cantique du chapitre, Luc a recours à un quasi pléonasme, grâce à la miséricorde viscérale de notre Dieu, encore mal traduit car c’est le terme formé sur la racine entrailles qui est le mot principal et la miséricorde est seulement complément du nom. Le latin rend le grec très précisément, dia splagchna eleous theou èmôn / per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri.
Col 3, 12 use aussi d’un quasi pléonasme avec une autre racine, semblablement traduit en latin (splagchna oiktirmou / viscera misericordiae) , en faisant de la miséricorde ce que les hommes doivent aussi vivre. « Miséricordieux comme le Père », lit-on en Lc 6, 36 que l’on retrouve d’Ep 4, 32.
A parcourir les différentes occurrences de misericordia il appert que le sens du pardon n’est pas le plus important ni le plus fréquent, même s’il est indiscutable comme dans le Ps 50/51. (Le verset 3 utilise les trois racines hébraïques, traduites seulement par deux des racines grecques, et par le seul misericordia.) Bien plus fréquemment que pardon, la miséricorde tant divine qu’humaine est compassion, bouleversement des entrailles (commisération), bonté, fidélité, amour et tendresse.


Below is the translation of Jean-François Garneau, together with some additions that are my own thoughts, in brackets
 
The word Misericordia, which English translates as mercy is a Latin invention. Attested in Cicero and Caesar, that is: in the first century BCE, it refers to what happens when we look at suffering with one’s heart, that is: with compassion and pity. If it is a Latin word that stands at the origin or all our modern day discussion of mercy, in ecclesial Latin, which Hebrew or Greek words does misericordia translate? There is no equivalent to this word in the Hebrew Bible, nor in the Greek New Testament. It is only in the Latin translation of the bible (commonly known as the Vulgate, and produced only in the late 4th century) that we see it appear. It is used about 430 times in the Vulgate, and Tertullian (who died around 220 CE) is the first Latin Christian writer to use the term.
Three Hebrew or Greek words are rendered by the Latin word misericordia in the Latin translation, although none of these words is systematically translated so.
1. The first is one can also be translated as love (hesed) and loyalty. It is found for example in Psalm 135/136. "For his love is everlasting", "kî le'olam ḥaseddô". That verse is rendered in Latin by the words "quoniam in aeternum MISERICORDIA eius" and in Greek by "eis ton aiona to eleous autou." That Greek word “eleos”, by the way, is the only one to have left trace in our Latin liturgy, through the formula Kyrie ELEISON, Lord have mercy [JFG: The important point here being that the “have mercy on us” could just as easily be translated as “pity us”, “have the compassion of the prodigal son father for us”, “remain loyal to us despite our betrayals and our failings” and not merely “have mercy on us” as a condemned person may ask a tribunal].
Mercy is the expression of God's heart when confronted to the suffering of His people. Twice in Deuteronomy 26 (which retells the story of Exodus 3) is it said that God saw the suffering of His people. The reason for the exodus, says Deuteronomy 26, is already anticipated from the time of Father of all believers (Abraham).
2. In Isaiah 54: 8 we read: "In a surge of anger I had hidden my face from you for a moment, but because of the everlasting nature of my kindness (beḥesed Olam / for eleei aiôniô / sempiterna in Misericordia), I was brought back to having compassion for you,” (riḥamettîḳ / eleèsô is / misertus sum tui), says Yahweh, your Redeemer." In the Hebrew original of this verse, the word used to signify kindness and love is one which etymological root alludes to a sense of the womb. Mercy, according to this verse (what the Latin bible translates as misericordia) is here the visceral feeling that one experiences before the suffering of other, what a mother feels in her stomach when confronted to something bad happening to her children. The Greek and Latin bibles translate this twice in the same way. But the Greek language also knows another expression of mercy in connection with the entrails of the one experiencing it. Thus in Luke 15, the compassion of the father of the prodigal son is expressed with the word esplagchnistè, something which the Latin can only render as "misericordia motus is", showing a more clearly maternal and feminine understanding of mercy of God than the Greek, and being closer in this way to the original Hebrew of Isaiah 54: 8.
3. The third Hebrew root (hnn) is translated into Greek by “eleos”, which the Latin then renders as “Misericordia” (mercy). It means to show to someone how priviledged, how precious he/she is, to be good to someone, to have pity on someone, even though it is undeserved. It is found for example in Psalm 55/56: "Have mercy on me, O God, is harassing me all day attackers press me." [The point being that the mercy is asked on the basis of being (or having been once found) precious, favoured, priviledged]
In the Magnificat (Luke 1:50), we can either use the word mercy, kindness or goodness to translate the Greek word “eleos” [as in Kyrie Eleison] in the verse “He has MERCY on those who fear him in every generation.
In the second song of Luke’s chapter 1, that is: the canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus), which occurs shortly after the end of the Magnificat, in verse 78, Luke comes very close to using a pleonasm (when he talks of the TENDER COMPASSION of our God). This pleonasm is made more visible when we realize that the “tender compassion” does not merely translate something like “the visceral compassion”, in Latin and Greek, but something like “the compassionate nature of the stomach upset God experiences when he sees us suffer” (i.e.: it is not God’s compassion that is visceral, it is God’s stomach upset which is due to compassion). That’s would be the correct translation of ”dia splagchna eleous theou Emon” or of the Latin “per viscera Dei nostri misericordiae”.
Colossians 3: 12 also uses a quasi-pleonasm to speak of mercy, although with another root this time. In the passage that we sometime translate euphemistically as “clothe yourselves with compassion…, what is really meant is “clothe yourself with the bowels of mercy (splagchna oiktirmou / viscera misericordiae)." The same sort of pleonasmic reference to the stomach upset of compassion should be read in Luke 6: 36 [Be merciful as the Father, i.e.: Have the same intensity of stomach upset in front of suffering as the Father], or in Ephesians 4: 32 [the “Be kind and compassionate to each other” of the verse literally meaning “Be incapable of not feeling sick in the stomach when each of your neighbour suffers”, and with the end of the verse alluding to Christ being the sickness of the stomach of God “the fruit of thy womb Jesus”, ‘just as in Christ God forgave you”].
To browse the various instances where the concept of misericordia (mercy) is used in the Bible, it appears that the meaning of forgiveness is not the most important nor the most common, although it is sometime the indisputable one, as in Psalm 50/51. (although verse 3 [of the Psalm numbered 50 in the Latin Vulgate] uses three Hebrew roots, translated only by two Greek roots, and only by one Latin word, Misericordia / mercy.) Far more frequently than forgiveness, divine and human mercy, in the Bible, is first and foremost compassion, stomach upset in the face of suffering (commiseration), kindness, loyalty, love and tenderness.

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