Where’s the Latin?

I had a question from a reader about why the Pope doesn’t seem to use the papal "we" in his new encyclical.

We responded that we would wish to see the Latin text before we commented.

I looked for the Latin:

Since the Latin office of the Secretariat of State is short-staffed at the moment, due to the absence of Fr. Foster, I am not entirely surprised that this encyclical, with its many modern concepts hard to render clearly into Latin, might not yet be ready.

But I hope it will be soon.

I hope that in the meantime, there is no significant tinkering with the text before the Latin version appears in the Acta or, tomorrow, in L’Osservatore Romano.  Although… does anyone want to be that tomorrow the version in L’Osservatore will be the Italian and not the Latin?

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  1. Geoffrey says:

    Why cannot I not find the encyclical on the Vatican’s website?! :-(

  2. Sacerdos ignotus says:

    I think there is a case for not translating mush like this into Latin. Keep that great language for liturgy and dogma. And I’m a Latinist!

  3. Maureen says:

    You can’t find it because the website is good, but its organization stinketh.

    Try the “What’s New” link. Otherwise, give up and use the search engine.

  4. Trevor says:

    “Since the Latin office of the Secretariat of State is short-staffed at the moment, due to the absence of Fr. Foster, I am not entirely surprised that this encyclical, with its many modern concepts hard to render clearly into Latin, might not yet be ready.”

    Are you insinuating that Fr. Foster was the Latin office? :-)

  5. Sacerdos ignotus: Perhaps you should make a case for why this is “mush” (whatever that means). Or do you simply claim that it is without any real reason?


  6. Trevor: Are you insinuating that Fr. Foster was the Latin office?

    Hardly. There are some great Latinists there. But if one of the main staffers is absent, I think we can reasonably say that they are short on staff. And Fr. Foster is one the heavy lifters in the work of that office.

  7. JML says:


    I am trying to wade through Caritas.. This is something that needs to be re-read quite a few times to pick up everything His Holiness is teaching. Yikes!

    It’s funny over at the Washington Post comment section on the encyclical how one side is saying that the Pope is endorsing socialism, while the other side is saying “no, capitalism.” I doubt few have even taken the time to read it or think before posting. It is all ideology.

    It would be nice if the Bishops would show the growth of modern Catholic social encyclicals from Leo XIII, to Pius XI, to Pope Paul VI, to John Paul II and now Benedict XVI (have I missed any?) and how thay are all still relevant in today’s world even though more than 100 years have passed.

    It could be one heck of a college course and even an advanced whole year HS course.

  8. Ioannes Andreades says:

    No Chinese version yet either. I wonder if the Chines gov’t will even allow the encyclical to be read on-line.

  9. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I was interested to see what the Latin would be for, “Put the brakes on.”

    [That would be freno or inhibeo or retardo… etc.]

  10. John V says:


    http://www.vatican.va gets you the page where you choose the language you want to use. If you choose “The Holy See English“, the page that comes up is http://www.vatican.va/phome_en.htm. There’s a link to the encyclical at the top of the page.

  11. Roland de Chanson says:

    We have examined some representative sections of « Spe salvi » and discovered to our delight that His Holiness expresses himself in the first person plural in Latin, but in the singular in Italian and English. We take note however that this usage is enshrined in classical Latin prose from time immemorial, and is not to be considered an analogue of the “royal we”. Obiter dicto, Latin does not use the second person plural for the singular. On tutoie tous et toutes.

    As Ludovicus Bene Amatus remarked upon the impending catastrophe, « Post nos, diluvium. »

  12. chironomo says:

    one side is saying that the Pope is endorsing socialism, while the other side is saying “no, capitalism.”


    Without sounding too snippy, the best response is that it endorses neither and criticizes both. He specifically proposes that “market forces” per se are not at fault, but rather the purposes for which they are used. On the other hand, he also roundly criticizes “ideological systems” which promote the good of the State at the expense of the individual. And he firmly criticizes any system which rejects the premise that first among all basic rights is the Right To Life. If he is proposing “Socialism”, it is one that is unlike any Socialism that we have thus far seen. Similarly, the Capitalism that he at times praises for reducing poverty in some instances is balanced by that which is blamed for creating it elsewhere.

  13. john uk says:

    Oh dear, oh dear! And here was me naively thhinking that the all documents issued from the Vatican were composed and issued first in the Latin language, and only then translated into other languages. Were not all the debates of Vatican II conducted in Latin? Surely, if Latin is to be the primary and universal language of the Church, what point in making one amongst many secondary languages into which documents are translated?

    John UK

  14. Roland de Chanson says:

    Sacerdos ignote,

    Lingua Latina iam dudum non solum ad res liturgicas et dogmaticas propagandas uti decuit verum etiam ad templa pagana inscribenda, ad Christianorum necem decernendam, ad lupanarium parietes ornandos, etiam ad versibus verpam priapeis extensam in hortibus, agris vineisque optimatum laudandam. Lingua Latina, cunctarum humanissima, ruri virebat, senatu valebat, ubique gentium vigebat.

    Egomet quoque novisse velim quid sit haec « puls » a te contempta?

  15. Aaron says:

    I’m with John UK; I thought all documents like this were translated from Latin to everything else. I could understand the Pope writing it in whatever language he’s most comfortable with, but then I assumed it would be translated to Latin for the first official version, and then go from there.

  16. Mike says:


  17. I wonder to what extent Latin is the official language of the Church. I have heard it called thus, but it seems to be a little off. And what does it mean to be the “official language” anyway?

  18. Johannes Patruus says:

    The encyclical’s Latin page is already on the Vatican site, the only (trifling) deficiency being that, apart from the title, there is no text – http://tinyurl.com/nr4rvh

  19. Prof. Basto says:

    Rorate Caeli provides a link to the page of the Vatican website where the official, typical, Latin text was supposed to be posted.

    However, that page only has the yellow background, the title “LITTERAE ENCYCLICAE / CARITAS IN VERITATE / SUMMI PONTIFICIS
    BENEDICTI PP. XVI” at the top and a copyright claim at the bottom; the “middle”, i.e., the text of the Encyclical proper, is still missing.

    See for yourselves: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_lt.html

    I wonder: Acta Apostolicae Sedis publishes only the Latin Text, also, as the authoritative text, the Latin version is personnaly signed by the Pope. However, if that version was ready (printed and signed by the Pontiff), then it would be easy to copy the same Latin text to the website.

    Perhaps there is absolutely no Latin text ready, not in print, not in HTML format, and the encyclical was signed in a vernacular language. There is a picture on the Web of the Pope signing the Encyclical (a close-up of the Pontifical signature), and, if you look closely, you will see that the text of the date is in Italian.

    NLM has that picture up.

    So perhaps the Latin text wasn’t ready on time and the encyclical was promulgated in its Italian version pending the future publication of a final typical version in the AAS..

  20. Domenico says:

    The Pope is the bishop of Rome and in Rome Latin is not longer used even in schools. What’s more, this is seen as ”modernity”. In Rome they speak a variety of Italian.
    Do you remember the memorable ”Volèmose bene e dèmose da fa!” of the Pope JPII of blessed memory?
    Do you remember also the memorable speech of the Pope BXVI in the Auschwitz-Birkenau’s lager? ”Prendere la parola in questo luogo di orrore, …” That was a moment and he was speaking in Italian! Italian is the language of the Pope.

    BTW, at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/index.htm you have a ”Papal Archiv”, with the documents of the Popes from BXVI to Leo XIII.

  21. john uk says:

    Patrick wrote:
    I wonder to what extent Latin is the official language of the Church. I have heard it called thus, but it seems to be a little off.
    To what extent seems to be the question :-)
    and also:
    And what does it mean to be the “official language” anyway?

    An “official language” is of the utmost importance for governments, legislators, states, and those subject to government and the law. Ny understanding is that it is the language which will define what is the meaning of a particular legislative act or document.
    One is well aware, for example, of the faux amis [words which appear the same, but whose meaning is radically different), between, for example, English and French. But they also exist between British English and American English – see
    particularly the section headed divergence.

    No wonder the translators of the new Missal had such problems in finding an English which both accurately translated the Latin and gave the same understanding to the differing speakers of English around the world!

    The existence of an “official language” – in this case Latin – means that whenever a doubt arises as to what is actually meant and intended by a phrase or sentence in translation, one can refer back to the official Latin for clarification: as Fr.Z constantly does when trying to make sense of ICEL texts of prayers – WDTPRS, or even WTPRDS [what the prayer really does say] (which might be a more accurate title for this blog :-)

    John UK

  22. Henry Edwards says:

    Patrick: And what does it mean to be the “official language” anyway?

    Perhaps that to determine what a document really means — whether it be an encyclical or the text of the Mass, for instance — you must check the published Latin version. Nowadays, almost any document would ordinarily be written originally in a vernacular language the authors are comfortable with, but it’s official meaning is not fixed in concrete until official publication in Latin. Indeed, the meanings of particular statements may not initially be “stably existent” (to coin a phrase) and may be refined or even changed in the course of translation.

  23. Bern says:

    I’d be interested in seeing the Latin too – I want to know what the original Latin is of the line about “acquiring real teeth”!

  24. Bern says:

    (well, not the “original Latin” I suppose – no doubt it wasn’t composed in Latin first!)

  25. Roland de Chanson says:

    Re “acquiring real teeth”:

    I looked at the German (assuming that to be the Pope\’s autograph), and was relieved to discover that it does not read “echte Zähne erwerben” or some such phrase but rather “real and concrete form to the concept … “. French and Italian have similar expression. As with “apply the brakes” (noted above), the English is that of a high school freshman.

    BTW, the Latin, when it appears, will read “veris dentibus potiri.”

  26. Bob says:

    I had heard a rumor that the Holy Father writes many of his documents in Latin. I guess that’s wishful dreaming?

  27. ETMC says:

    Yeah, I was slightly disappointed to see that there was no Latin translation. (Not that I know Latin well enough to read it! *sigh*
    Go to http://www.vatican.va, and click “The Holy See: English”. There’s a picture of Pope Benedict to the left, and next to him there’s a small picture of St. Peter. Click on St. Peter. Then click “Benedict XVI”, then “Encyclicals”. “Caritas in Veritate” should be at the top.
    Or, here’s the link: :)

  28. Nicholas says:

    Dear Roland,

    Strictly speaking, your claim is incorrect. For a long time now the Latin language has not been used–in any meaningful way–in inscribing pagan temples, decreeing the deaths of Christians, decorating the walls of brothels (unless Mr. Spitzer put that expensive education of his to vandalistic use during any of his, um, lupine excursions), and praising certain depictions of swollen anatomy. Sacerdos ignotus has a fair point, which is simply that the grand tradition of Christian Latin is predominantly liturgical and theological (I leave aside the question of CIV’s merit). Such profanities as you mention are, from this perspective, archaelogical curiosities–hardly normative for current practice.

  29. Carlos Palad says:

    “Since the Latin office of the Secretariat of State is short-staffed at the moment, due to the absence of Fr. Foster…”

    Which makes me want to ask: how many Latinists do we have left in the Church?

    Pope Benedict XVI is reputed to be one of the 20 best Latin speakers in the world. Are there
    any Latinists among the Cardinal-Electors, save for Cardinal Grocholewski?

  30. Roland de Chanson says:

    Dear Nicholas,

    I am astonished! Sacerdos has a fair point? Which one? That Latin should not be used for encyclicals? Or not for encyclicals that are “mush”?

    I think no “sacerdos” would call any encyclical “mush”; nor do I think Ratzinger could write “mush” even if he tried.

    But I agree with you that Latin has fallen into a most regrettable desuetude. This delict must be avenged! This is why I wrote “iam dudum decuit”. My claim is hence not incorrect when rightly understood.

    My liitle Latin drollery was merely to show that the world of Latinity is more ample than that of the narrow domain of liturgy and dogma. I apparently failed to capture your interest with “ruri … senatu … ubique gentium”. This I regret. Here I was thinking of the Eclogues of Vergil, the Orations of Cicero, the expansion of the Empire. As for the garden statuary and the brothel graffiti, that epigraphy, too, has something to teach us. Homines sumus. Humani nihil a nobis alienum putemus.

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