Practical Tips for Time Travelers
January 5, 2016 5:08 AM   Subscribe

There appear to be a lot of versions of the Lord's Prayer out there. In Europe, between 1400 and 1700, how much did it vary over time and between locations? Did every place/ time have a canonical version or did it vary by sect? Is there a map or resources that show how translations shifted between times and locations?

I was reading a bit about witch trials and how saying the Lord's Prayer absolutely correctly and without hesitation could be used as a 'test.' But it seems like there were quite a few versions in use, and it would suck to be burned because you asked for your sins to be forgiven instead of your debts or your trespasses. Was there only ever one version used in each time/ place/ congregation?

I'd be interested in hearing answers about any language, particularly the shift from Latin to local languages.
posted by oryelle to Religion & Philosophy (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, in 1400 the areas of Europe that are today either Roman Catholic, Anglican or Protestant were Roman Catholic and services were conducted in Latin. There were some proto-Reformers like John Wyclife who illegally translated the Bible into local languages but that got him burned at the stake.

In the east, some Orthodox churches used archaic languages (eg Old Slavonic) that similarly to Latin were no longer understood or spoken by the common people, while other churches continued to use vernacular, or in the case of Greek and Syriac the language continued to be mostly comprehensible to ordinary people.

In England, the Reformation began in the 1530s and King Henry VIII ordered in 1535 that an English translation of the Bible be placed in every church. It was based on the Wyclife translation (not that the authorities would have liked to admit it). The Book of Common Prayer (a missal or book which set out the approved texts, prayers and liturgies) dates from the same period. So after this time, your time traveler should pray the Our Father in English... well, except for the 1550s when Henry's daughter Mary takes the throne and tries to return the kingdom to the Roman Catholic Church.

So yeah, there was definitely ONE OFFICIAL TRANSLATION at any given time, though the major difference is going to be which language is used as opposed to which translation or the debtors/trespasses thing, etc.

I've never heard of the witch prayer recital test, and tend to think that that sort of anecdote is more truthy than historically accurate. But I may be mistaken.
posted by tivalasvegas at 6:36 AM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

My guess is that at the witch trials, since it was a reasonably closed community and by law they were all required to go to the same/single church, they all knew and used the same version.
posted by easily confused at 7:27 AM on January 5, 2016

Right, hence the title about time travelling
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:40 AM on January 5, 2016

Aside: I read a work of fiction recently in which they did this. Slade House, by David Mitchell?
posted by puddledork at 7:52 AM on January 5, 2016

Well, the Lord's Prayer appears in the Bible in both Matthew and Luke, although they don't match and the version everyone uses is from Matthew. So, it's hard to get wrong. If you want the version in use at a particular time and place, you would need to look at the dominant liturgical use. Depending on the time and place, it could be Latin, Koine Greek, Old Church Slavonic, or the common vernacular, but the source text would be the Gospel. Of course, I can show you churches in my city who recite this prayer in Koine Greek and Old Church Slavonic in the year 2016.

John Wyclife who illegally translated the Bible into local languages but that got him burned at the stake.

John Wycliffe died from natural causes. The problem with his translation, as far as church authorities were concerned, was not that it was in the local vernacular but that he was unlicensed. Local language versions of the Bible existed in Great Britain centuries before Wycliffe was born.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:10 AM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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