I present here some examples of the translation of texts in two different English translations of the Philokalia of Saints Makarios of Corinth and Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain. The text marked Faber & Faber is the translation of the Philokalia undertaken by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (of which translators only the latter, now Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, is still amongst us), which has to this point published the first four volumes of the five Greek volumes. The text marked Cavarnos is the translation of Constantine Cavarnos, which appears in two volumes of selected translations from the volumes of the Philokalia, available here from the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies.
The goal of this presentation is to indicate the general tenor of the two translations, giving a kind of taster of their qualities. Others may come to their own conclusions, but I prefer the Cavarnos translation. The main reason is that the Faber & Faber translation, while often elegantly phrased, is insufficiently attentive to an accurately consistent rendition of the theological vocabulary found in the Greek texts. A sensitivity to this vocabulary is paramount in the work of Cavarnos. Indeed, he has devoted an entire book to describing the importance of such a consistency of approach in translation: Orthodox Christian Terminology (IBMGS, 1994). This is particularly the case in the Anglophonic world, which is simply not an Orthodox culture, and its religious and philosophical vocabulary is therefore not transparently applicable in translation. In such a thing as such weighty theological texts, precision and accuracy should be of greater concern than I think is perhaps found in the Faber & Faber translations, initiated more than three decades ago. Perhaps they would be done differently now. In fact, several of Cavarnos’ drafts were solicited and reworked by the Faber & Faber editors, an interesting twist to the story of the publication of the Philokalia in English.
St Isaiah the Solitary, On Guarding the Intellect: Twenty-Seven Texts, 1
Faber & Faber
There is among the passions an anger of the intellect, and this anger is in accordance with nature. Without anger, a man cannot attain purity: he has to feel angry with all that is sown in him by the enemy. When Job felt this anger he reviled his enemies, calling them ‘dishonourable men of no repute, lacking everything good, whom I would not consider fit to live with the dogs that guard my flocks’ (cf. Job 30:1, 4. LXX). He who wishes to acquire the anger that is in accordance with nature must uproot all self-will, until he establishes within himself the state natural to the intellect.
Anger of the mind (τοῦ νοὸς ὀργὴ) against the passions is according to nature (κατὰ φύσιν). Without such anger purity does not result in man — if the mind does not become angry at all that is sowed in it by the enemy. When Job found the enemy, he (Job) reproached them saying to them: “You who are dishonorable and of no repute, in want of every good thing, whom I did not consider worthy to be with my shepherd dogs!” Now he who wants to acquire anger according to nature cuts off all his volitions, until he establishes himself in the state of the mind that is according to nature.
Evagrios the Solitary, Extracts from the Texts on Watchfulness, 1-2
Faber & Faber
A monk should always act as if he was going to die tomorrow; yet he should treat his body as if it was going to live for many years. The first cuts off the inclination to listlessness, and makes the monk more diligent; the second keeps his body sound and his self-control well balanced.
He who has attained spiritual knowledge and has enjoyed the delight that comes from it will no longer succumb to the demon of self-esteem, even when he offers him all the delights of the world; for what could the demon promise him that is greater than spiritual contemplation? But so long as we have not tasted this knowledge, let us devote ourselves eagerly to the practice of the virtues, showing God that our aim in everthing is to attain knowledge of Him.
A monk should always be alive as if he were to die tomorrow. Again, he should treat his body as if it were to live for many years. The former cuts off thoughts of despondency (ἀκηδία) and renders the monk more zealous, while the latter keeps the body sound and maintains self-restraint undiminished.
He who has attained knowledge and has enjoyed the pleasure that comes from it will no longer be persuaded by the demon of vainglory when he offers all the pleasures of the world. For what could he promise that is greater than that spiritual contemplation? However, so long as we have not tasted this knowledge let us devote ourselves eagerly to spiritual practices, thus showing our aim to God, that we are doing everything for the sake of knowledge (γνῶσις) of Him.
St Mark the Ascetic, Concerning Those Who Think That Men Are Justified By Works, 90
Faber & Faber
The intellect changes from one to another of three different noetic states: that according to nature, above nature, and contrary to nature. When it enters the state according to nature, it finds that it is itself the cause of evil thoughts, and confesses its sins to God, clearly understanding the causes of the passions. When it is in the state contrary to nature, it forgets God’s justice and fights with men, believing itself unjustly treated. But when it is raised to the state above nature, it finds the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace and the other fruits of which the Apostle speaks (cf. Gal. 5:22); and it knows that if it gives priority to bodily cares it cannot remain in this state. An intellect that departs from this state falls into sin and all the terrible consequences of sin — if not immediately, then in due time, as God’s justice shall decide.
There are three mental places (νοητοὶ τόποι) where the mind enters through change: that which is according to nature, that which is above nature, and that which is contrary to nature. When it enters that which is according to nature, it finds itself the cause of evil thoughts, and confesses to God its sins, knowing the causes of the passions. When it enters the place that is “contrary to nature” it forgets the justice of God, and quarrels with men, that supposedly are unjust to him. When he comes to the place that is “above nature” it finds the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which the Apostle calls love, joy, peace, and so forth. And he knows that if he prefers bodily cares, he cannot abide there. And he who departs from that place, that is, from the place “above nature,” falls into sin and the accompanying dread events, and if not soon, at the time when known to God’s justice.
I find (and I believe others will agree) that the Cavarnos translations to be theologically clearer than the superficially more well-translated Faber & Faber translations, interestingly enough. While the latter certainly read more easily, in smoother, more idiomatic English, the theological point tends to be obscured through the rather loose control of the theological vocabulary. The Cavarnos translation, on the other hand, while hewing more closely to Greek modes of expression, is theologically clearer while not as idiomatically smooth English. The import of the Philokalia lies primarily in its theological and not artistic or literary value. Seeing that, I find the Cavarnos translation, while incomplete, to be preferable to the Faber & Faber, particularly for readers new to the Philokalia. A more experienced reader will be able to follow the occasionally somewhat convoluted paraphrastic reworkings of the Faber & Faber translation, and will be able to understand their theological intent clearly. But this cannot be expected of a reader new to the Philokalia. I will therefore be recommending the Cavarnos translations first to new readers of the Philokalia, for precisely the value of their clarity in concise and uncomplicated expression of the theological terminology.