On editing, and editing the BibleFATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER
Few tensions are as taut and bitter as that between a writer and his editor.
In 1818, an English physician named Thomas Bowdler unwisely decided to operate on Shakespeare by removing the unseemly parts of the plays to produce "The Family Shakespeare" suitable, as they say in Hollywood, for "General Audiences." Ophelia accidentally drowns instead of committing suicide, and Lady Macbeth does not use cuss words. The eponym "bowdlerize" is not generally received today as a compliment.
If editors are not sent from God, they sometimes do a godly work, like sports coaches and dieticians, even if their advice is as unwelcome as it is prudent. But that prudence has its limits when it involves cherry-picking the Author of all things. Thomas Jefferson did a fine job with the Declaration of Independence, whose draft copy was only lightly edited (he should have heeded Adams' advice not to call the King a tyrant), but he was out of his realm when he bowdlerized the New Testament, leaving out the bits he thought unacceptable to eighteenth-century men who had learned about gravity and oxygen. In this he was like twenty-first-century legislators who would delete the adverb "not" as an inconvenient interpolation in some of the Ten Commandments.
I have noticed that when the present Lectionary occasionally proposes a "Shorter Form" for one of the Gospel readings, the lines edited are something Our Lord said that comfortable people would rather He had not said. The "Shorter From" of the Parable of the Wedding Garment remarkably leaves out the wedding garment. It is like dropping the last chapter of an Agatha Christie novel. I cannot imagine how any congregation would be so rushed that it could not find time for the thirty seconds it takes to read that warning about coming to the nuptial feast of the Eucharist unclothed in baptismal virtue, without sins confessed. If that is not suitable for the general audience, there is something wrong with the general audience.
Father George William Rutler. "On editing, and editing the Bible." From the Pastor (October 16, 2011).
Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.
Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.
Copyright © 2011 Father George W. Rutler
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