Eleven AMU students had the unique opportunity to work with their professor on a recently published translation of one of St. Jerome’s major works. The first volume, which appeared in print this May, is published in the students’ own names, with Dr. Scheck listed as co-translator and volume editor.
Dr. Thomas P. Scheck, Associate Professor of Theology, recruited the eleven AMU students, both graduate and undergraduate, to work on the Latin translation project after InterVarsity Press invited him to be the editor of a new, two-volume translation of St. Jerome’s Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets. He had the idea to open up the opportunity to some of his graduate and undergraduate students.
“I am very proud to put Ave Maria University on the map like this,” Scheck says. “And to help these students get a publication in their own name. It will help them professionally; it has already helped a couple of them get accepted into graduate school. But it is also a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself.” Going on, he states: “I am so proud that they tackled this.”
Each of the AMU students recruited to help translate was assigned one of the twelve commentaries. Two students were unable to complete the work, so Dr. Scheck took over and completed their translations. The twelfth and final translation in the series—Jerome’s commentary on the prophet Amos—was contributed by Rev. Dr. Jason Soenksen at Concordia University, Wisconsin.
This two-volume series marks the first-ever published English translation of St. Jerome’s Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets. Volume I features an introduction and notes by Dr. Scheck and the first group of seven commentaries. Volume II, containing the remaining five commentaries, is currently in production. The two volumes are part of InterVarsity Press’ Ancient Christian Texts series, edited by Thomas C. Oden and Gerald L. Bray.
One of the most exciting aspects of this project is how unexpected it is. One student contributor—Mary Catherine Beller—didn’t even major in Classics; she graduated with a B.S. in Biology in 2016. Daniel Whitehead, who worked on the prophet Jonah and graduated in 2014, is currently enrolled in law school. But, as Dr. Scheck pointed out, translating Latin is a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. Translation work teaches the student valuable life skills, like critical thinking, careful analysis, and an appreciation for the nuances of words. Beller learned from her experience “that good translation is more than just a word-for-word rendering.” Good translation requires familiarity with Latin idioms, a sense of the author’s style, and the ability to convey these subtleties in English. She enjoyed the challenge of making her translation “as fluid and poetic in English as the original is in Latin.”
The study of Latin can also benefit a student with an awareness of the relation between past and present. "Reading the Church Fathers in Latin,” Whitehead shares, “develops a historical sense.” From his work on the translation project he gained “a keen awareness of the Church’s palpability in time and circumstance”—a sense, he added, that is difficult to gain elsewhere.
Danny Garland, PhD candidate in Theology at AMU and Associate Director of the Institute of Catholic Culture, translated Haggai. “It was an amazing, yet challenging experience,” he recalls. In the prologues to each chapter, Garland explains, Jerome “pulls out all the stops” and proves his mastery of Latin. Garland goes on to joke that there were moments in the translating process that he would think to himself: “Here goes Jerome, showing off again!”
Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski, OP, echoes this sentiment, saying: “[Jerome] sometimes writes very rhetorical passages which are both fun and frustrating to translate. He can be very simple when explaining the literal or historical meaning of the text and then go into an intricate and dramatic section with many synonyms.” Sr. Albert Marie is an Instructor of Theology and Research Fellow at AMU; her translation of St. Jerome’s Commentary on Nahum became the basis for her MA thesis.
Reflecting on what it meant for him to be a part of the project, Garland notes how translation work creates continuity between the past, present, and future. “When you translate St. Jerome’s commentaries on Scripture, you are both learning from a master and at the same time making the master known to others. I consider myself blessed to have had the occasion to pass on the genius of Jerome to a wider audience.”
Dr. Scheck concurs: “Jerome’s major achievement as an expositor of scripture is his set of commentaries on the Old Testament Prophets. He wrote lengthy expositions of all sixteen of them, a project that occupied him for the last thirty years of his life. He clearly had a sense of its tremendous scope, for in his prefaces he tracks his own progress. He also knew that it was his last project, and felt a great need to complete it before his death, He died while writing his last commentary (on Jeremiah). Now the Commentaries on the Twelve (Minor) Prophets are accessible to English readers at least.”
Thanks to the efforts of these students and teachers of Latin, a major work of St. Jerome is now available to an English-reading audience.
St. Jerome, pray for us!
Volume 1 of St. Jerome’s Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, edited by Thomas P. Scheck, is available in hardcover from InterVarsity Press.