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Friday, 15 May 2009

Amazing grace

They’re not happy with saying grace before meals at Cambridge University’s all-women Newnham College.

So they’ve brought in a nonreligious version.

The traditional version addressed thanks to “Jesum Christum dominum nostrum” – Jesus Christ our Lord.

The new grace reads: “Pro cibo inter esurientes, pro comitate inter desolatos, pro pace inter bellantes, gratias agimus.”

That means, “For food in a hungry world, for companionship in a world of loneliness, for peace in an age of violence, we give thanks.”

But who’s receiving the thanks? The world, Earth, Mother Nature, Gaia, presumably.

It hasn’t pleased everyone. Mary Beard, who is a fellow of Newnham, said the change was an insult to Latin.

Writing online, she said, “The undergraduates’ rewrite was a classic case of disguising a load of well-meaning platitudes in some posh dead language, which was actually an insult to that dead language.

“Could we imagine getting up and saying this in English? No. Well don’t say it in Latin, then.”

She said the old version at least had the “virtue of hoary tradition”.

On the grounds of what you might call aural aesthetics, she has a point. You don’t have to believe you’re saying thanks to a two-thousand-year-old dead person, any more than you’re literally calling for his (or his dad’s) blessings when you say “Bless you!” to a friend who’s just sneezed.

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