A Question of Translation

What’s the best way to render the French déifuge when translating Schuon? Previous translators (myself among them) have generally opted for the literal transposition, “deifugal”, but you’re thinking about “theofugal”, you say, or else simply “God-fleeing”. As I see it, there are two issues to keep in mind: one is philology, and the other is connotation in relation to context.

Philologically, the question you ask raises the further question of why some English compound words having to do with God use a prefix derived from the Greek (theos) while others use a prefix derived from the Latin (deus). While it would doubtless be foolish to impose any hard and fast rule, it seems to me we should avoid English compounds that fuse a Latin with a Greek root; both parts of a word should come from the same ancient language. We may say théomorphique/“theomorphic”—as Schuon does from time to time—because θεός/theos (God) and μορφή/morphe (form) are both Greek; but we don’t say “theoform” because in this case the Greek-derived prefix would be “unequally yoked” to a Latin root (forma). Crossett would have referred to the resulting mix as a linguistic “bastard”, for obvious reasons.

The French déifuge respects this rule inasmuch as both parts of the word are Latin in origin: deus + fugo, -ere “to flee”. A quick search suggests that our English equivalent, “deifugal”, while by no means a common adjective, does have a number of precedents in other authors, including Simone Weil, who observed, in perfect accord with Schuonian metaphysics: “There exists a ‘deifugal’ force. Otherwise all would be God” (Gravity and Grace). It actually surprised me to discover that your proposal, “theofugal”, appears to have a few precedents as well; curiously one Evangelical Christian website I happened upon employs the term “theofugal” as a label for “ministries that are designed to cause a person to flee from sin to God”. I wouldn’t recommend using the word that way!

As it happens, “theofugal” also conforms to the rule of pairing words derived from the same language, for the Latin verb fugo is itself derived from the Greek φεύγω/pheugo (flee). The problem in this case, however, is that your spelling “theofugal” fails to preserve the orthography of the Greek double-parentage: if you wish to use this term, it really ought to be “theopheugal” or perhaps “theophugal”—“ph”, not “f”, being the proper way in which to transliterate the Greek letter φ (phi). But I have to confess, neither of those options appeals to me very much: they seem much too pedantic, even ostentatious, for your purposes. The Schuon translator must strive for precision, certainly, but not at the price of imposing a neologism—or not at least if there’s an established alternative. I believe I would therefore stick with “deifugal”.

But then of course there’s also the possibility, as you suggest, of simply muting the classical source of the term altogether and rendering the French déifuge into English as “God-fleeing”. I think if you choose to go this Anglo-Saxon route, however, you need to be careful to consider both context and connotation. What is it precisely that Schuon is talking about in a given passage? What substantive is said to be déifuge? And does the connotation of the adjective we choose make sense in relation to that substantive?

As I’m sure you’d agree, our English verb “flee” connotes, not merely movement away, but movement with the intention of escaping, and it therefore implies agency, and motive, on the part of the one who is fleeing. The Latin fugo, by contrast, seems more neutral, and more especially focused on the movement as such. Hence the Latin aphorism tempus fugit, the point of which is to express the rapidity with which time passes, but without attributing any agency—let alone any angst!—to time as such.

Given these connotations, I believe it makes better sense to use the Latin derivative and thus to say “deifugal” when Schuon is speaking of the way in which the descending levels of manifestation “move”, as it were, further and further away from the Absolute, approaching the impossible possibility of non-being. On the other hand, if our author is speaking instead, as he sometimes does, about the ego or about sin and its moral as well as ontological tendency, then your suggested “God-fleeing” may well be the better choice.

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