A noted theologian changes his mind about “pro multis” meaning “for all”

From Sandro Magister’s site Chiesa:

Vatican Diary / The conversion of bishop-theologian Bruno Forte
He was a determined supporter of “for all” in the words of the consecration. But the pope’s letter to the German bishops has changed his mind. Now he too wants “for many” to be said. Behind the scenes of the turnaround

VATICAN CITY, September 10, 2012 – The dispute over the translation of “pro multis” in the formula of Eucharistic consecration has been expanded, in Italy, with an interesting new contribution.

In the Sunday, August 26 edition of the leading Italian newspaper, “Corriere della Sera” a highly prominent figure took the field in this argument, the archbishop of Chieti and Vasto Bruno Forte, a former member of the international theological commission who was consecrated as a bishop by then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:

> Quell’Ultima Cena con le sedie vuote

In the article, in the wake of the letter addressed last April 14 by Benedict XVI to the German bishops, Forte took a clear position in favor of the translation “per molti,” to replace the “per tutti” that entered into use after the Council in Italy and in many other countries.

“Theologically,” Forte writes, “the translation ‘per molti’ seems to me more respectful of everyone’s freedom, and in no way excludes the offering of salvation to all made by Jesus on the cross.”  [I like the “freedom” argument.]

“For this reason,” he adds in concluding the article, “I prefer the translation ‘per molti,’ and I maintain that if explained well it can be of help and encouragement to many.”

Forte also criticizes the translation that is found in the French missal, “pour la moltitude,” recently praised by two Italian scholars, Francesco Pieri and Silvio Barbaglia.

Forte dismisses the version that they propose, “per una moltitudine,” as one of those “intermediate solutions” that “while admirable” are “inevitably compromisory.” [It would be good to know his reasons.]


Forte’s joining the fray is significant, and in some ways surprising.

It is significant because he is one of the best-known Italian bishops, including at the international level, and enjoys a substantial following among his brother bishops, who in fact appointed him as their representative at the worldwide synod on the new evangelization that will be held in Rome in October. Of the four selections he is the only one without the scarlet, the other three being all cardinals: Angelo Bagnasco, Giuseppe Betori, and Angelo Scola.

It is surprising because Forte has always been considered a theologian of the progressive camp, [Indeed.] the camp that most opposes, and not only in Italy, the passage from “for all” to “for many.”

At the memorable ecclesial conference in Loreto in 1985, which marked the ascent in the leadership of the Italian Church of then-auxiliary bishop of Reggio Emilia Camillo Ruini, Forte was fighting for the other and the winning side, together with the president of the episcopal conference at the time, Anastasio Ballestrero, and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. And it was he who gave the introductory theological presentation.

This is why he has not rarely ended up in the crosshairs of his more conservative theologian colleagues.

For example, in a 2004 article Fr. Nicola Bux, [HURRAY!] an adviser – both then and now – to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, singled out Forte as one of the “promulgators” of a “weak and derivative theology” concerning the resurrection of Jesus, reduced “to an ‘etiological legend,’ or an artifice in support of the worship that the Judeo-Christians were conducting on the site of Jesus’ burial.”

But Forte’s taking the field is even more surprising because it marks in him a change of judgment with respect to the past.

During the general assembly of the CEI in November of 2010, when the Italian bishops reiterated with a landslide vote their support of the preservation of the version “per tutti,” Forte was among the few who took part in the discussion on the topic in the assembly. And he spoke out in support of the majority.

On that occasion, the Neapolitan theologian – an uncle of the prosecutor John Henry Woodcock, very well known for his judicial investigations with a significant media component, the latest of them against former IOR president Ettore Gotti Tedeschi – indeed affirmed that “the alternative ‘per molti/per tutti’ contains a theologically founded nuance,” but – he added – this is a nuance “too subtle to be explained to the people,” and so expressed the opinion of “maintaining the translation currently in use.”  [Sound familiar?  “It’s tooo haaard!”]

In that assembly, the bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of of the maintenance of “per tutti” with 171 votes out of 187 voters (apart from one blank ballot, only 11 expressed themselves in favor of “per molti,” and 4 for the version “per le moltitudini”). And this in spite of the circular letter with which in October of 2006 the Vatican congregation for divine worship had given the worldwide episcopates the authoritative indication, at the mandate of the newly elected Benedict XVI, of translating with “for many” the “pro multis” of the Latin “editio typica” of the Roman missal.


Currently, the text of the new translation of the Italian missal is under inspection by the congregation for divine worship, which must give the necessary “recognitio.” And in the light of the pope’s letter to the German bishops of last April, it is easy to predict that the dicastery will not compromise over the change from “per tutti” to “per molti.” [Good.]

The match could still remain open as far as other sensitive points of translation are concerned. Like the changes proposed by the bishops, with overwhelming votes in support of departing from the original Latin for the “pax hominibus bonae voluntatis” of the Gloria or for the “ne nos inducas in temptationem” of the Our Father, or, with a contrary criterion, the request not to touch the current Italian version of the “Domine non sum dignus,” conspicuously – and arbitrarily – different from the original Latin (“Signore, io non sono degno di partecipare alla tua mensa” instead of “Signore, io non sono degno che tu entri sotto il mio tetto” of the Latin missal, taken word for word from Matthew 8:7).

In this context is situated Forte’s turnaround in favor of “per molti.” A turnaround that the more malicious interpret as his hopping onto the bandwagon of the victor, in a battle that for him is already lost, in view of possible future promotions.

Forte was considered to be in the running for the patriarchate of Venice, and for that position had a public “endorsement” from the former center-left mayor of the city, the philosopher Massimo Cacciari.

Now the grand maneuvers have already begun for two Italian sees of cardinalate tradition – Bologna and Palermo – the pastors of which, Carlo Caffarra and Paolo Romeo respectively, will turn 75 in 2013. But this is another story.

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  1. Supertradmum says:

    This is fantastic, and one of your strengths, Father Z., on your blog, is that you challenge us and do not talk down to us, as if the laity could not think. You never tell us “It’s toooo haard.” And, thanks for that….

  2. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:

    The “freedom” argument also caught my attention when I read it. This makes sense.

  3. robtbrown says:

    In this context is situated Forte’s turnaround in favor of “per molti.” A turnaround that the more malicious interpret as his hopping onto the bandwagon of the victor, in a battle that for him is already lost, in view of possible future promotions.

    A reasonable explanation–and prognonis.

    Forte studied in Germany and can be considered an Italian Romantic version of Rahner. My principal mentor at the Angelicum had no respect for the Forte theological efforts and used to make fun him.

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Unquestionably, “pro multis” never meant “for all”, and if a Latin student had offered that translation on one of my quizzes, I’d’ve marked it wrong. Theologically, however, rendering it “for many” raises more questions than it answers. I’ve always preferred something along the lines of “for the multitude”, altho I admit it sounds a bit clunky. Anyway, we have what we have, and if we prayed in Latin, the issue would never come up: the tradition behind “pro multis” here is linguistically and theologically sound.

  5. The Cobbler says:

    Given the way Latin is about articles (definite or indefinite), I sometimes wonder why we don’t translate it as “the many”. No clunkier than “the multitude” (not to mention that “for many” sounds strange just because we’re not used to it, so a little clunk isn’t gonna hurt us), equally literal as “many” given that Latin would never say “the” explicitly anyway, and would tend to clear up the confusion over the nuance precisely by being closer in meaning to the original, right?

    …Right? Not that it matters at this point…

  6. Matt R says:

    Brick by brick! Very good news.

  7. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Nice thought Cobbler. “The many” would work, imho.

  8. disco says:

    @cobbler I don’t think “for many” is clunky at all. It’s certainly not as clunky as “for the many”. There is no tradition behind “the many”. It’s not there in the Greek and we have never used it through history. It’s just a compromise.

  9. JonPatrick says:

    Reason #637 for Summorum Pontificum – If we went back to using Latin, there would be no controversy.

    On a side note, given that this Friday is the 5th anniversary of SP, wouldn’t it be cool if on that date the Holy Father announced that the FSSPX had agreed to the personal prelature and that all their sacraments were now licit.

  10. UnwaffledAnglican says:

    Why is this even a question? “Pro multis” means “pro multis;” it’s not like there’s a lot of ambiguity. There’s no more reason to make it “for all” than there is to make it “for kumquats” or “for left handed red headed Moldovan dentists.”

    One of the things that brought me to the Church was that I was sick and tired of make-it-up-as-you-go-alongism. I’m not a fan of Dan Brown, but I can’t help thinking that a cadre of homicidal albino monks might be a good thing for His Holiness to have around once in a while.

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Disco said: “There is no tradition behind “the many”. It’s not there in the Greek and we have never used it through history. It’s just a compromise.”

    Well, a cursory Google shows “for the many” being used as far back as 1784, although it didn’t become a really popular expression (at least in written works digitized by Google) until the 1830’s. It shows up earliest in people translating Latin expressions into English, but became idiomatic for all sorts of political and publishing discussions after that. For example, it was common to compare those writing “for the many” versus those writing “for the few.”

    So yes, it’s new compared to Wulfstan, but it’s not new compared to the US.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I shifted my search, and lo! the poet Spenser used “for the manie”: “So am I made a servant of the manie” and —

    “Let God, if please,” saide he, “care for the manie,
    I for my selfe.”

    Etymonline says “for the many” goes back to the 1520’s.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    OTOH, the West Saxon Gospel of Matthew gives Mt. 26:28 as:

    “þis is witodlice mines blodes calic niwre ae,
    þaet byð for manegum agoten on synna forgyfenysse.

    The West Saxon Gospel of Mark gives Mark 14:24 as:
    “Ða sæde he him, Ðis ys min blod ðære niwan cyðnesse, ðæt biþ for manegum egoten.”

    So you could go either way.

  14. Simon_GNR says:

    At Mass last Saturday evening the visiting priest (a Marist) who celebrated said, I believe quite deliberately, “for all” rather than the “for many” printed in the Missal. I’m sure he was consciously choosing to use the wrong translation as he did not accidentally slip back into the old translation at any other point in the Mass: he seemed to want to make some sort of point about “for all” instead of “for many”. (Another visiting priest a few weeks ago did slip once or twice during Mass into the old wording, though he correctly said “for all”, but as he was very old I got the impression that this was just accidental and was not in any way deliberate.) What is it with these guys who won’t “Say the Black, do the Red”? Why do they need to show themselves off as being disobedient towards ecclesiastical authority?

    As it was a one-off visit to our parish to cover for our parish priest who was away on a pilgrimage, I won’t raise the matter with anyone. Our parish priest always uses the correct new translation, by the way.

  15. zekarja says:

    The Bible says, “for many”. “For all” raises Theological questions as well. “For all” could be seen as teaching some form of universalism and other such things. My previous priest prefered “for all” because he believes that a “loving” God will not send anyone to hell because “his love trumps his justice”. I left that parish after finding that out.

  16. Melody says:

    I still think a better rendering of “pro multis” would be “for so many”, “for the many”, or “for a great many” given that the Latin term implies “multitude” but that wording is clunky.
    Although I’m happy as anyone about the improved translation, I’ve no doubt it will be adjusted slightly over the coming years to smooth verbiage without sacrificing meaning.

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