June 06, 2007

Bonus pastor animam suam dat pro ovibus suis

In English: The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.

After the New Testament sheep from yesterday, I thought I would do another Biblical passage with sheep. This passage comes from the Gospel of John, and reads: Ego sum pastor bonus. Bonus pastor animam suam dat pro ovibus suis, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep."

This saying helps reveal a fascinating bit of Latin which has entered into English as a word in its own right: Latin pastor does not mean "shepherd" in English, but instead has a special church usage, meaning the metaphorical "shepherd" of a congregational "flock," based on precisely the Biblical metaphor that is at work in today's saying. The first definition provided for the word in the Oxford English Dictionary reads: "A person who has the spiritual care of a body of Christians, as a bishop, priest, minister, etc.; spec. a minister in charge of a church or congregation, esp. (in later use) in the Lutheran and some other Protestant Churches."

Of course, people might get a clue from the related word "pasture" that the English "pastor" started out in the fields, rather than in the confines of a church.

In older English examples, the word "pastor" still meant shepherd, as you can see in this Aesop's fable as rendered by Caxton in 1484 - it's Caxton's version of Androcles and the lion, although in this case the role of Androcles is played by a "pastour," a shepherd. Here are the opening lines; you can read the complete story at aesopica.net:
And this fable approueth esope & sheweth vnto vs / of a lyon whiche ranne after a beest / and as he ranne / a thorne entred in to his foote / whiche hurted and greued hym gretely / wherefore he myght no ferther goo / but as wel as he cowde he came to a shepherd whiche kepte his sheep and beganne to flatere with his taylle shewynge to hym hys foote / whiche was sore hurted and wounded / The sheepherd was in grete drede and casted before the lyon one of his sheep / But the lyon demaunded no mete of hym / For more he desyred to be medycyned and made hole of his foote / And after whanne the sheepherd sawe the wounde / he with a nydle subtylly drewe oute of his foote the thorne / and had oute of the wound alle the roten flesshe / and enoynted hit with swete oynements / And anone the lyon was hole / And for to haue rendryd graces and thankys to the sheepherd or pastour the lyon kyssed his handes
You don't even want to know what the spellchecker thinks of the venerable Caxton! Meanwhile, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1192. Bonus pastor animam suam dat pro ovibus suis.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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