Русский | December 2001
English translation by Liubov Afonina

Priest Peter Ivanov

The Orthodox catechisms in Chinese language:
To the problem of compilation of the Orthodox missionary
Russian-Chinese dictionary

The aspiration to revive the Orthodox mission in China puts on an agenda the question about modern translations of  the Holy Scriptures and liturgical texts to Chinese language, and also the actuality of using the results of the Orthodox missionaries’ activity in 19th century for achieving the objective.

To give an idea about the alternatives of the Orthodox translations of main theological and biblical terms and names, we use catechetical sources, that in brief tell about basics of the Orthodox Faith. We have chosen three publications, that had been compiled by the members of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Beijing: “Confession” (東教宗鑒) [1]  by St Dimitry of Rostov, translated by Hieromonk Gury (Polikin), published in Beijing in 1860; “Catechesis” (教理問答) [2] compiled by Archim. Gury (Karpov), published in 1865; “Overview of the Holy Canons” (教規略述) [3], that appeared in 1882.

This report provides the vocabulary of the main Christian terms and names, the Chinese versions of which can show us to some extent the views of the Russian missionaries on the translations of theological texts into the Chinese language. Also we give the translations from two dictionaries, published in modern China: “English-Chinese and Chinese-English dictionary of Christian terms”  (基督教詞語英漢漢英對照手冊), Beijing, 1997 (4); “Grand Russian-Chinese dictionary” (大俄漢詞典), Beijing, 1985 (5).

Interestingly, that they traditionally call Orthodoxy東正教, in the same time Christianity is termed variously, terms that now identify different confessions are used as synonyms - 天主教,耶稣教,基督教 (2). The conception of faith as holy doctrine, as the true and holy path – 聖教(1), 正道 (2), 聖道 (3) forms a contrast to modern 信仰 (4).

It seems, that Russian translators didn’t care about terminology discussion, in which Catholic and Protestant missionaries were involved. God is termed 上帝 (1), or simply 主 (1) and 天主 (3). Almost the same variants we can see in modern dictionaries -上帝, 神 (4), 天主 (5).

There are different definitions of God: One – 唯一,一性一體 (1), which means “one essense, one body” (?!); Almighty – 全能; Maker of heaven and earth - 造成天地; all things visible and invisible - 有形無形 (the verbal translation of having and not having shape, that cannot be accepted as correct translation, but it is repeated in all Orthodox texts); Holy Trinity – 含三位,三者實一 (1), 體一而位有三 (2) (the definition of Holy Trinity is simplified for better understanding by Chinese people:  verbally – “having one body, but possessing three personality”; God’s body has no shape or appearance - – 其體乃無形無像 (1); God is a Spirit – 其體乃無形無像 (1); Righteous - 公義不偏 (2); Merciful – 仁慈無窮 (2); All-good – 至善至仁 (1); Omnipresent - 無所不在 (3); Omniscient - 無所不知 3; Omnipotent – 無所不能 (3); Everlasting– 無始無终 (2).

God the Father is translated as 聖父, and Son of God as – 上帝之子 (1) or 聖子 (2), Logos 聖言 (2) appears as synonym, that has been transcribed as 落各斯 (5) in modern language, but at the same time one may encounter such variants as 道 or 言.

The Chinese name of Jesus Christ is an example of the insistent transcription of proper nouns - 伊伊蘇斯合利斯拖斯 (1) that is contrary to the more popular 耶稣基督(4). For example, Jehovah -  耶國瓦 (2), Michael the Archangel are also translated by means of reproduction of the initial sound with the help of Chinese characters. There are examples of combined transcription: Adam - 原祖阿達木 (1) or 元祖 (2), Gabriel the Archangel – 首品天神戞烏利伊泐 (1), but Eve - 耶瓦 (2), Moses – 摩伊些乙 (1).

Sometimes names insistently reproduce Russian sounds of words, for example, Judah – 伊屋達 or patriarch Abraham -太祖阿烏拉阿木 (2), and for achieving this objective traditionally used for transcription characters are taken, but sometimes characters with negative meaning are used, carrying negative connotation in the names. This way Apostle Thomas - 佛瑪 (2) carries connotation “Buddha’s stone”, as Micah - 密黑 (2) can be associated with “mysterious gloom”.

Some proper nouns clearly have the impression of  Russian sounds in it, although the derivation of the words isn’t Russian, sometimes it is really perplexing, for example: Pontius Pilate - 彭提乙批拉特 or Jerusalem -耶魯薩利木 (1) along with normative 比拉多 and 耶路撒冷 (4). There is no excuse for such translations as Pascha in the form of 葩斯哈, as in the same time we have another version - 瞻禮日 (2).

Definitions that belong to Son of the God: Only-begotten - 獨一生 (1) [compare 獨生 (5)]; Not made – 非受造; of One Essence with the Father – 與父一 體 (based on the above we can guess, that characters 性 and 體, in relation to God essence, translators regarded as synonyms): 本體子 ; «through Whom all things were made» - 萬物由彼而受造; Became Man – 爲人; Crucified - 被釘十字架; Suffered – 受害; Buried - 乃痊 ? ; Resurrection – 復活; «His Kingdom will have no end» - 其國將無終; Saviour, Messiah – 救世者 (1), 救世主 (2,5), 救贖者 (3), [compare modern - 彌賽亞 (4)]; Anointed One - 被傅油者 (1) [compare 被凃油者 (5)]; Priest - 司祭; King – 君王; Prophet – 先知 (Prophesy – 預言 ; Prototype -  預像); merging of human essence with the Divine - 人性乃結合上帝性; Sinless (without original sin) - 無原罪染; Divine Body and Blood– 尊體尊血 (1).

The Virgin Mary in all sources is named 童貞女瑪利亞 (1) [compare Mother of God Mary - 聖母瑪利亞 (4)].  The Mother of God in one source has two different translations上帝母 and 聖母 (1). It makes us think, that translators regarded concepts “The Mother of God” and “The Holy Mother” as synonyms (despite different connotations the second variant is the most popular in China). We will emphasize two of all the compellations to the Virgin Mary: Full of Grace - 滿被聖寵者 (verbally full of holy love); Blessed - 為讚美 (1).

The Holy Spirit - 聖神 (1), in the same time we can see a little more naturalist translation 聖氣 (2) [compare modern 聖靈 (4)]; Giver of the Life - 施生; Who proceeds from the Father - 出於父; Worshipped - 偕父及子同一欽榮 (1).

Church - 教會 (1); priest – 神父 (3) or 神甫 (司祭 is also possible); deacon - 輔祭 (3);        the Holy Scriptures - 信經 (3) (Old Testament - 古遺照, New Testament – 新遺照 (1) contrary to modern 舊新約); Catholic – 公 ; Apostolic – 宗徒; real sons of the Church – 教會真教子 (1).

Future age - 來世; Eternal life - 永生 (1), 常生 (2,3); soul –靈魂 (1); particular and general judgment - 私//公審判 (1); Last Judgment– 大審判 (3) [compare 世界末日, 最後審判日 (4)]; Righteous person – 義人 ; beneficence – 功德 (1) or 善功 (2); sinner –罪人; purgatory - 煉獄 (Catholicism – 四教); paradise – 天堂 (1), 天國 (3), Eden – 地堂  (2) [separation of people’s habitat before the Fall of man and paradise in Kingdom of Heaven deserves attention]; hell – 地獄 (2); way to Heaven  – 天國道 (2); latter-day – 末期 (2); Mercy Seat– 主臺 (2).

Angels– 各品天神 (2); bodiless and spiritual - 無形而靈明 (2); Powers of Heaven- 天軍 (2).

Mystery/Sacrament - 機密 (1); effectuality - 效驗 (2); the Epiclesis– 呼聖神 ; in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - 因父及子及聖神; Amen – 阿民; servant of God - 上帝僕; canonical hours - 定章祝文; private and communal  prayer - 私//公祈禱 (1); morning and evening prayer - 早//晚課經 (3); the Beatitudes - 真福九段 (1); Prayer of the Heart - 內禱 (3); worship – 叩拜 (3); icon - 聖像 (3); to cross - 畫請聖號 (1).

Names of the Mysteries sometimes are traditional, for example, Baptism - 聖洗  (1); godparents – 代父代母 (3); Holy Water -聖水(3). But in some cases Orthodoxy was unreasonably replaced by Catholicism. For no explicable reason in one of the catechism, Anointment - 堅振 (2), which means “confirmation”; as another text gives another translation - 傅聖油 (3); “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” - 聖神恩重印記 (1).

Repentance – 告解 (1); penance - 補贖的功課 (3); Chrismation - 聖傅 (1); 傅聖膏 (2) [it must be noted that there is no differentiation in terminological definition of chrismation and administration of holy unction]; Matrimony – 婚配(1); Holy Orders – 神品 (1).

Eucharist – 聖體血 (1), 聖體 (2), 聖體禮儀 (3) [compare modern 聖餐 (4)]; holy bread and wine – 餅酒; consecration – 化; that in actual fact means alteration; to bless the Holy Gifts - 降福於祭品; Holy Сommunion - 領聖體 (1), catholic stress on flesh; go to church – 上堂 (3); divine service – 堂課 (3); believers – 教友 (3); Canon of preparation for Holy Communion - 備領聖體規程 (3).

Fasting - 齋, Wednesday and Friday – 瞻禮四六 (1); in the Decalog, Saturday is named Sabbath - 穌博他日 (3); Sunday/Lord’s day - 瞻禮日, 主日 (3); Church holidays - 禮期 (3); Dormition of Mary - 聖母安息日 (3); Nativity of Christ – 主降生日 (3) [in Chinese conditions the translation of the word «the Magi» as magi ab oriente would be incomprehensible, that is why they have chosen the other variant, which is very similar to modern english  wise men of the East – 東方博士 (2)]; Theophany/Epiphany – 主領洗日 (3); Pascha – 主復活節  (3); Ascension of Jesus – 主升天日 (2); Pentecost - 聖三主日 (3); Exaltation of the Holy Cross - 榮聖架日 (3); Great Fast/Lent – 大齋期 (3).

Temptation – 誘惑; evil – 兇惡 (1); devil – 魔鬼 (3); Satan – 薩他那 (2); idle talk - 非禮俗談 (1); capital sin – 死罪; original sin – 原罪; private sin – 私作之本罪; justification – 赦; arrogance – 驕傲; acquiring the grace - 貪吝; lust – 邪淫; envy – 嫉妒; greed and gluttony – 饕餐; enragement – 忿怒; idleness – 怠惰 (1).

Heretical books – 邪書 (1); believers and unbelievers – 奉教 // 異教  (異門之人) (1); 外教人 (3).

The fruit of the Holy Spirit from the Epistle to the Galatians chapter 5: love – 愛慕; joy – 喜悅; peace  – 安和; patience – 忍耐; kindness – 良善; goodness – 仁慈; faithfulness – 信德; gentleness (as meekness) – 溫柔; temperance (as self-control) – 節制 (1).

These few examples above show, that the inheritance of the Russian missionaries to some extent is valuable and can be used now for revival preaching by the Russian Orthodox Church among the Chinese. At the same time there are some evident shortcomings. While Russian missionary outreach was stopped for some historical reasons, western missionaries activity continued. Under their influence stable Christian vocabulary in Chinese language was formed. Probably, it would be wrong trying to change it. To the contrary, it seems, it is necessary to adapt the translations of  theological and biblical texts, made in late 19th century and the early 20th century, so that they could be available to modern Chinese. The first step to the objective could be the compilation of the Russian-Chinese Orthodox missionary dictionary, where the achievements of the missionary translators and the international practice of translations of the Holy Scriptures and other Christian texts to Chinese language should be taken into account. The realization of such work would put missionary works of our Church into the right perspective in respect of the processes, that nowadays take place in the world Christian sinology, that recently takes strong measures to remove ambiguity from the Chinese theological language.