Et Ne Nos Inducas In Temptationem


Long time no blogging …

I’m writing now because I think I’ve finally worked out how to address the question of the recent changes to the texts of the Lord’s prayer into several modern languages.

The “temptation” line is a particularly difficult one to accurately and elegantly translate into modern languages from either the Greek or the Latin, mainly because the verbal forms of those two ancient languages did not survive as such into the modern European ones.

I’ll look at this from the Latin for two reasons, with the clarification that the problem is basically the same from both the Latin and the Greek. First, the Western churches have always traditionally used the Latin rendering, not the Greek ; second, it’s also easier for me personally from the Latin.

I will be approaching this from a generally linguistic direction, even though I hope through that to perhaps help give some clarity to the strongly related theological matter.

It goes : et ne nos inducas in temptationem.

First, “inducas” is a subjunctive, not an imperative ; and “ne” expresses a negative will or desire, not the straightforward negation expressed in Latin by “non”.

So “ne” should neutrally be translated “may I/you/we not” or “may it not be so that I/you/we” — literally that is. It’s basically a negative form of “may”, except that no such word exists in English, nor pretty much in any modern Western European language.

The verb “inducere” means, literally, “to carry in/be carried in/bring in/” etc.

But what is really difficult here is that the combination of the meaning of “ne” with the second person of the verb “inducas” and the subjunctive mood leads to a rather complicated meaning, something along the lines of “May you not let it be so that”.

… which then automatically creates a difficulty on how to best render the semantic element of the verb, particularly in English where in time the subjunctive has become so weak that many native speakers no longer even recognise it when it’s used.

Adding to this difficulty is the double use of “in” — “inducas in temptationem

What’s not evident is that this is not two separate uses, but the same use repeated for purposes of both insistence, and to qualify the meaning of “inducas” so that its “in” element concerns the “temptationem” rather than the verb being used in its most literal manner, thus not just qualifying but changing the meaning of that verb — so that it means more “to bring temptation in” rather than “to bring in into temptation”. In context, this is not the sort of subtle difference as appears at first glance.

Another non-self-evident and so difficult element is that the “nos” is actually in the Nominative, not the Accusative, so that it’s the subject of the subjunctive phrase “nos inducas”, not its object.

So we end up with a rough idea of : “And // may You not let it be so // that // we to bring temptation in

Or cleaned up, “And may You not let it be so that we shall take temptation in.” — though as you can see, even that falls short of the full meaning, as it fails to fully express the prayer that God might let us be neither the place where temptation is suffered or succumbed to, nor to be those who might cause temptation in others.

So you see, literally, it is not God here who is bringing in the temptation, but it’s us ; and we are praying to Him that He shall not let us do this thing.

But that is very difficult to render, in a translation that’s both formally accurate and elegant in the modern European languages, especially the non-Romance and non-Greek ones.

One thought on “Et Ne Nos Inducas In Temptationem

  1. Now, as far as the semantics go, so far well and good — but to move onwards from that, a little more purely grammatical analysis might be needed.

    et — and

    [Pater noster] — implicit 1st subject, 2nd person singular, simultaneously Nominative and Vocative

    ne — adverbial in the stronger sense, that is as constituting a verbal element in the sentence

    nos — 2nd subject, 1st person plural, Nominative

    inducas — present subjunctive 2nd person singular conjugated as is normal in a subjunctive

    in temptationem — qualifies both “nos” and “inducas”, and as noted above changes the meaning of the verb

    Latin (and Greek) made use far more often than in any modern European language of two different subjects in a single sentence. It is so unusual in our own languages, in fact, that we tend not to see it when we read texts in the ancient language.

    But when, in Latin, a sentence has two separate but linked subjects in the Nominative, the verb can still only be conjugated in accordance with one of them, but not the other — and in this case, given that the overall Nominative in the Prayer is “Pater noster”, so in this case “inducas” is accordingly conjugated to the 2nd person singular.

    But the reason why we know that “nos” is in the Nominative, not the Accusative, is that if it had been an Accusative, this would have needed to be clarified with a preposition, such as “ad” or “in” for example, except that no such preposition is present.

    And yet, modern translations all make the mistake of treating “nos” as if it were an Accusative, as if the prayer said something like “et ne ad nos inducas in temptationem”, except that it doesn’t.

    Also, “nos” is in the Nominative because we are the ones doing the praying, and so as the active source of this praying “we” are naturally describing ourselves in the Nominative, and it would be unthinkable to do otherwise in either the Latin or the Greek.

    So that — bearing in mind the semantic analysis of the main post — as a more purely grammatical translation, we would have :

    And // may it not be so // we (in temptation) // you [Father ours] bring it in.

    Which actually can just about be rendered into a roughly correct grammatically, if rather lapidary English :

    And, we under temptation, carry it not, but deliver us from evil.

    Latin is a VERY agricultural language, and so here we have an image where we are as if physically loaded with temptation (as a farm worker or cattle might be with some load) and we are praying to God to not bring forward that load for us, but to “deliver” (literally, unload) that evil from us.

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