Translations and the Wildlands of the SQO

To translate Henry of Ghent is like translating Augustine. Or, to translate Henry of Ghent is to translate Augustine. As some medievalists know, Henry was much more of a modern author than other scholastics in the sense that he typically cites chapter and verse and gives full quotations (or interestingly edited versions) of the cited text.

Here is what Roland Teske said about translating Article 1 of Henry's SQO. [Henry of Ghent’s Summa of Ordinary Questions: Article One: On the Possibility of Human Knowledge, St. Augustine’s Press, South Bend, IN, 2008, xxii]:
Henry’s Latin is difficult, and the Latin of the authors he cites is often far more difficult and cryptic. Another problem stems from the many Latin words that Henry used in referring to knowledge and knowing, such as scientia, apprehensio, notitia, cognitio, and their verbal forms. For example, at times Henry uses scientia in the sense of Aristotelian science or the knowledge of demonstrated conclusions. At other times the term seems to have a more general connotation.

Alas, this is what awaits the would-be translator of Henry's texts. It requires both a sensitivity to philosophical technicalities, and what for lack of a better term is a good literary sensibility. If a philosopher is trained in the 'analytic' or 'anglo-american' philosophical tradition, to translate Henry might be deathly irritating because Henry enjoys the use of synonyms, rhetorical quandry, one might say 'edification', but also a deep engagement with philosophical arguments. What is perhaps off-putting is that if one is not familiar enough with the sources that Henry is interacting with, then the reader may not know and consequently appreciate what Henry is up to. Even more, Henry seems to be an extrovert. That is, he works through arguments by writing them out as it were. So, unless a reader is patient enough to read long enough, she might put the book down and think, 'I don't get whatever he is saying here'.

When I first started reading Henry I was advised that there are long-patches of 'talk' and every once in awhile a golden nugget of an argument. The longer I read Henry, the more golden nuggets I find, which is what keeps me going - especially if some scholar X has attributed to Henry some silly view, and then shown how some other scholastic supersedes this silly view. However, sometimes this really is the case; Henry does have peculiar arguments at times. But on other occasions I find that Henry really is much more with it than has been credited to him. Henry does have a stronger metaphysical imagination than has hitherto been credited to him.

Nevertheless, in histories of medieval philosophical theology, Henry usually is mentioned as the brightest lesser light between Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. One reason for this was surely his renown in the University of Paris during his long teaching career (possibly 1267-1276 in the Arts Faculty; 1276-1292 in the Theology Faculty); another for his participation as a 'consultant' to Bishop Tempier in the 1277 condemnations; and another for his influence on Duns Scotus. Still, there are few people who have actually read most of Henry's writings. There are the favored sections of Henry's SQO by metaphysicians (SQO 21-30) and epistemologists (SQO 1). Surely it is not a coincidence that these are the texts that have been translated into English. So far as I know, none of Henry's texts on the Trinity have been translated. Some scholars say that Henry talks about the Trinity from SQO 53-61. This is true but if one read through SQO 62-75 it becomes apparent that Henry was in no way done talking about the Trinity after SQO 61. In fact, I would venture the statement that SQO 62-75 are hitherto theological wildlands, a land of vast and curious things. I do intend to publish on sections from these wildlands in the future -- some of which are actually quite important for what Henry says about the principle of individuation, Trinitarian logic, and further clarifications on the metaphysics of the Trinity that Henry lays out from SQO 53 and onward.

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