“Pro Multis” – “For Many” or “For All”?

The new English translation of the Missale Romanum, the Roman Missal, from the original latin text is already in use here in New Zealand. In my opinion, it is a vast improvement over the hastily and inadequately done translation in the years following the Second Vatican Council. One of the points of contention here is regarding the words of consecration for the precious blood, which, in the new translation, reads as follows: “For this is the Chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” It is the word “many”, which has been changed from “all”, that is being disputed by “many” in the liberal and dissenting camp.

An author from the notorious America magazine has written:

The Latin word, multis, is, itself, perhaps, a mistranslation of the original Greek word, Pollown,which refers to ‘the many’ ( an expression already found in Isaiah) to indicate a substantially large, indeed capacious, number, equivalently all.

If one looks at the text with its Greek lexicon (click on the word “many” or “pollwn”), however, we see that the definitions are “many, much, large”. With regards the author’s appeal to the writings of Pope Benedict (God is Near Us: The Eucharist the Heart of Life), the Pope states in the same book in p.37:

I leave open the question of whether it was sensible to choose the translation “for all” here and, thus, to confuse translation with interpretation, at a point at which the process of interpretation remains in any case indispensable.

The footnote for this states,

The fact that in Hebrew the expression “many” would mean the same thing as “all” is not relevant to the question under consideration inasmuch as it is a question of translating, not a Hebrew text here, but a Latin text

Fr. Z’s blog on “Slavishly accurate liturgical translations” provides an explanation and history of its universal use behind the translation:

Look at it this way: if the Pope or a new Council chose to explain a new emphasis using a document of sufficient weight and authority, and if the Holy See then changed the Latin of the Missale Romanum to say “pro vobis et pro universis”, then there would be a linguistic justification for saying “for all” as an accurate translation of the Missale Romanum.

But the Church cannot change the Latin from pro multis to pro universis.

That would explicitly contradict the Church’s teaching as expressed in Latin by the Council of Trent (cf. Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II, 4).

Such a change would contradict doctrine and not simply change emphasis about an aspect of that doctrine. Clear English must reflect the clarity of the Latin.

Many arguments have been forwarded to justify the choice to translate pro multis as “for all”.

In Latin pro multis means “for many”. All the Latin rites, historical or modern, have pro multis and not pro omnibus or pro universis.

The English translations of the Eastern Catholic Rites say “for many”.

Our patristic sources, such as the writings of the 4th c. Doctor of the Church St. Ambrose of Milan, when describing the words of consecration in the Eucharistic liturgy, has pro multis and not pro omnibus, etc. The liturgical formulas were from Scripture. The 4th c. Doctor of the Church St. Jerome, who translated from Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin giving us a Bible translation called the Vulgata, chose to use pro multis when translating the Greek tò peri pollôn (genitive plural of polus) in describing Jesus’ words at the Last Supper.

In Greek polus means “many” or “much” or even “most” as in the majority: it does not mean “all”. In the ancient Church, no one said “for all” instead of “for many”. In the Greek Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus uses a form polus “many”. The liturgical rites of the East retained a form of polus. The rites of the Latin West have ever used pro multis.

He also clarifies, in agreement with Pope Benedict, that the claim of the original Greek meaning being “equivalently all” is based not on the Greek but on a guess as to the possible original words:

The Lutheran Scripture scholar Joachim Jeremias, whose philological fan dance formed the basis for the claims that words in Greek meant something they have never meant in the history of Greek because of his guess about what Jesus may have said in Aramaic, said in the Scripture dictionary article on this matter that he was trying to avoid an interpretation he considered offensive. He tailored his article according to his predetermined idea.

“This is the question whether the broad interpretation of polloí corresponds to the original sense of Mk. 10:45; 14:24 or whether we have here a secondary and more comprehensive understanding designed to avoid the offence of a restriction of the scope of the atoning work of Jesus to ‘many’” (pp. 543-44).

The foundation for our present translation was the Lutheran Jeremias’ rereading of Scripture so as to avoid the offense in Catholic doctrine.

Is it “restricting the scope”, as Jeremias claims? I wouldn’t think so: God, of couse, wills for all to be saved, but, given free will, its fruition is not necessarily manifested universally. On this point, Fr. Z quotes the Catechism of Trent to further clarify the matter:

But when He added pro multis He wanted that there be understood the rest of those chosen (electos) from the Jews or from the gentiles. Rightly therefore did it happen that for all (pro universis) were not said, since at this point the discourse was only about the fruits of the Passion which bears the fruit of salvation only for the elect (delectis).

Thus, it can be seen linguistically, historically, and doctrinally, that “for many” is the more appropriate translation.


4 thoughts on ““Pro Multis” – “For Many” or “For All”?”

  1. Towards the end of this post you write: “God, of couse, wills for all to be saved, but, given free will, its fruition is not necessarily manifested universally.”
    But given this, I would have to ask “why the insistence on interpreting Jesus’ words, “PERI POLLWN”, as referring to its specific application to individual men, or in other words, as referring to the giving of efficacious grace?”
    The end of (or goal of, or reason-for ) Jesus’ sacrificial self-giving may not come to fruition for every man but neither may it be UN-realized by ANY man.
    Just as much as we cannot know the specific instances of who is saved, neither can we know the specific instances of who is damned, granted that any are saved or that any are damned.
    Because of our ignorance of these specifics and our inability to provide convincing grounds for our statements that “so-and-so has been saved” or “so-and-so has been damned”, we should relegate our understanding of Jesus’ words as referring to the ABILITY of all men to be saved and thus not be overly concerned that the tiny prepositional phrase “for all” be change to “for many”, for I suspect that many want the former phrase removed under false pretenses.
    Otherwise I should think that you would have to provide a convincing interpretation of Church teaching or of the teaching of some reliable authority that adequately demonstrates that it is more than likely the case that at least one known human being has been/will be damned.

  2. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’” [Matthew 25:41-43]

    Our Lord said He will judge and some will be damned.

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 7:21]

    Our Lord said that not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven.

  3. Actually, the Greek translated as “the Multitude” per the Middle Liddle. Aren’y Ombinus and multis Latin not Greek ?

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