I'm a little confused by the clause that begins Matthew 10:

10:1 Et convocatis duodecim discipulis suis, dedit illis potestatem spirituum immundorum, ut ejicerent eos, et curarent omnem languorem, et omnem infirmitatem.

The Douay-Rheims bible translates this verse as such:

10:1 And having called his twelve disciples together, he gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of diseases, and all manner of infirmities.

I'm mostly on board with this translation. However, one thing confuses me. Doesn't the translation "And having called his twelve disciples together" smack of the active voice?

To me, it looks like a perfect passive participle, and should be translated as "And his twelve disciples having been summoned", or, to make it flow more smoothly, "And when his twelve disciples were summoned, he gave them power over unclean spirits..."

Curious for feedback.

2 Answers 2


The translation is indeed syntactically inexact, but in a very common and justifiable way.

The point is that Latin -- unlike e.g. Greek, from which this text is translated -- lacks a perfect active participle. This means that there's no direct way of saying "Having called his disciples together...". (The exception to this is using a deponent verb, since these have passive forms but active meanings; so their perfect passive participle can be used actively, e.g. haec locutus "Having said these things...".) What Latin conventionally does in such situations is to turn the clause around into a passive and use the perfect passive participle in an ablative absolute construction, as here. The implied agent of the passive, though not actually expressed, is understood to be the same as the subject of the main clause.

This is an extremely common way of doing in Latin what Greek would do with an aorist active (or middle) participle; in this case, the original Greek has an aorist middle participle, προσκαλεσάμενος τοὺς δώδεκα μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ "having called to himself his twelve disciples". In translation, it makes sense to render the Latin passive construction actively, since there's no particular reason to follow the syntactic constraints of Latin in an English translation.


I'm not an expert in Latin of the age of the Vulgate, so somebody else may have a more enlightened view, but grammatically speaking you're exactly right; the phrase in question is an ablative absolute, meaning "his twelve disciples having been called together," and "And having called his twelve disciples together" seems to be a mistranslation, or at least a less direct/literal translation. The meaning is the same—the implication in convocatis duodecim discipulis suis is certainly that he's the one who did the calling—so it's possible that the translator simply felt it was more idiomatic English. (If I were trying to do a translation into actual English of today—rather than translationese—I'd probably go with, "Once he had called his twelve disciples together.") But I don't know enough about the Douay-Rheims Bible to be able to opine further on that point.

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