PopeWatch: Casey Stengel


 Can‘t anybody here play this game?’

Casey Stengel

As the center of a global institution that includes one-sixth of the human race, one would have thought that the issue of translation of Church documents would have been something that the Vatican would long ago have mastered.  Alas no, apparently.

Joe at Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam has been doing yeoman work in attempting to correct the inexcusably sloppy translation from Spanish to English of Evangelii Gaudium.  Go here to read all about it.  Spanish and English are not minor languages in the Church.  One would have thought that the Vatican could easily have translated a Spanish document into English.  Apparently such confidence would have been misplaced.

This whole foul up reminds me of the words of Pope John XXIII when he was asked how many people work in the Vatican.  “About half.” was the Pope’s laconic response.


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  1. I think the mistranslation was purposely done by those with a liberal progressive bent to provide a liberal progressive spin that does not exist in the original. But then again, I am a paranoid conspiracy theorist! Ha! Ha! 😉

    BTW, how accurate are the translations into German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, etc.? And why wasn’t Latin – the official language of the Church for its controlled documents (e.g., Apostolic Exhortations, Encyclicals, etc.) – used?

  2. This mistranslation is becoming an all too frequent excuse to be believable!!!! I agree with Paul, why isn’t Latin being used? It seems like the Holy Father is trying to be too cute and is playing us faithful for fools!!!!

  3. The Italian adage “traduttore, traditore,” [translator, traitor] is well known.

    One of the commonest difficulties in translation is the absence of a word with the same connotations or range of meaning in both languages. Everyone will recall from their school days the difficulty of translating the Latin “sentio.” Did the author mean “I think,” or “I feel”? What would he have written, had he been writing in English? The same problem arises with French « Aimer » which can mean “like,” or “love.” So deceptively simple a word as “rubor” can be problematic; the Roams regarded red and brown as two shades of the same colour, as we do scarlet and crimson.

    I recall having great difficulty on explaining to an English insurance company the meaning of a French police report that contained the sentence, « Il tomba au-dessus bord et se noya. » Someone in their office had translated it, “he fell overboard and drowned himself.” Now, that is the literal meaning, but, in French, « Il s’est noyé » no more implies that he did it on purpose than “he cut himself” does in English. It can mean “he drowned himself,” in the English sense, but “he fell,” rather than “threw himself” suggests otherwise.

    Often, the translator has to divine the meaning from the context. Translation and interpretation are inseparable and there can be numerous versions, all equally defensible.

  4. I feel like I’m getting farther and farther away from what the Holy Father is saying. First, I’m told that he’s been taken out of context. I should read it all for myself. Then I’m told he’s been misreported. Now I’m told he’s been mistranslated.

    Which translation should I trust, and who has the authority to tell me? Which interpretation should I trust? Fr. Z or the NYT?

    My confidence in the Church is being undermined by the Church itself.

  5. Even the traditional English translation of the Apostles’ Creed contains two doubtful and one questionable translations.

    “He descended into hell,” where the best manuscripts have “descendit ad inferos” – He descended to those below/within (Hell was traditionally located in the centre of the earth). Even reading “infernos,” we certainly have a plural.

    “The resurrection of the body,” where the Latin has “Carnis resurrectionem” – the resurrection of the flesh.

    “Sanctorum communionem” the communion of saints, treating “sanctorum” as masculine; it could equally well be neuter, a sharing in holy things, and St Jerome, in one of his sermons uses both meanings (and both are true and, perhaps, ultimately identical).

    Now, none of these makes any real difference in meaning and the traditional version is certainly more idiomatic and therefore, arguably, better. But as a pure question of translation, they are certainly debateable.

  6. This has been going on for a long time folks. Lets see, I last studied Greek in about 1962 and Latin in about 64, and as I remember from Latin to Greek we ask the Lord skip the devil’s job and thus “lead us not into temptation.” Translating from Greek, again only if memory serves, that is more like “prevent us from being led into temptation.” In our everyday recitation I’m sure we mean the latter every time we say the former. At least I do.
    My reading says that Evangelii Gaudium was written in Spanish and translated to Latin. I’ll bet money the posted English was from Latin not Spanish, so there were two opportunities for minor misinterpretations, and probably two (or more) different people. My choice is to “keep the faith” and believe that any misdirection is also inadvertent. After all, wasn’t it posted in English the same day it was released?

  7. Style and substance are inseparable in all but the driest technical works. A translation may accurately convey the meaning of the words employed, but next to nothing of the experience produced by reading the original.

    The Roman poet, Juvenal wrote:

    “Magnaque numinibus vota exaudita malignis”

    “And great vows having been clearly heard by malignant spirits” is an accurate literal translation, but is flat and pedestrian beyond belief.

    Now, compare Dr Johnson’s translation,

    “Enormous prayers, which Heav’n in vengeance grants”

    This reproduces the terse, epigrammatic style of Juvenal and even something of the rhythm and cadences of the original.

    One would hope that the Vatican could provide translations that, at least, match the English Lexicographer’s.

  8. I’m sure we all recognize that translations can never be taken for granted. Even when conducted by those so well versed and experienced. Add in new people, cultures and processes and its no wonder we have some issues. Granted, I to would have expected a more vetting effort …. but then think about how our pope is not the most bureaucratic of individuals. Heck, Spanish in Argentina may be a bit different than in Madrid. I wonder if the documents are being translated at the VA or in country? I’d guess at VA.

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