Media misquoting the Holy Father’s new book

There is a little bit of a controversy about a a couple points from the Holy Father’s new book which really isn’t much of a controversy at all.

If you don’t have the book please use one of my links to buy it.  As a matter of fact, when shopping online think “I’ll use Fr. Z’s links for amazon first and then navigate in amazon to where I want to go!”  But I digress.

US hardcover HERE.  Kindle HERE. Unabridged audio HERE. Large print HERE.
UK hardcover HERE. Kindle HERE.  Large print HERE.

First, some tried to make a big deal out of the Holy Father saying that Our Lord wasn’t born in the year 1 A.D.  Ooooold news, folks.

Then, there was some flutter about the Pope mentioning, quite properly, representations of the crib scene with the traditional ox and ass. We all know that the ox and ass were not in the Gospel accounts.  They are mentioned in Isaiah 1:3, however.  There is also a non-canonical, apocryphal text called the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew which brings them up.

That said, I think the Pope speaks infallibly about this one: We like the ox and the ass by the manger, which just seems incomplete with them by now.

In any event, there is a Latin phrase “fluctus in simpulo… a wave in a ladle“.

Still… news agencies really should try to get their reportage right.  No?  Am I being too picky?

On that note, this is from the blog The Charcoal Fire:

Busted: Media Circulating False Quote from Pope’s Book Not In English Edition, Random House Confirms

In response to my inquiry (basically, the same as what I posted here), Random House confirmed my suspicion that the quote in several media stories is not legitimate, saying that the quote circulating is a bad translation from the Italian text and is not to be found in the English text of the Pope’s new book on the Infancy Narratives. The Pope’s book was written in German.  [What are the German and the Italian texts?  Here is the German, supplied by a reader: “Die christliche Ikonographie hat schon früh dieses Motiv aufgegriffen. Keine Krippendarstellung wird auf Ochs und Esel verzichten.” (p.79).  This is something like, “No nativity scene can relinquish (do without) the Ox and Ass.”]

The real quote:

“No presentation of the crib is complete without the ox and the ass”

 (p. 69).The quotes the media have been circulating:

4th century Roman sarcophagus

 (Time,Telegraph, UPI,Christian Post).“No nativity scene will give up its ox and donkey”

 (Daily Mail,Guardian,Catholic Herald,National Post,Catholic News Agency/EWTN)What does this all mean? At any point the writers of the stories about the Pope’s book in the English-speaking press could have picked up the book and looked up the quote to publish it accurately. They did not. They did not bother. The media is reporting on itself, not on the Pope. They want their controversies. Well, now they’ve a credibility controversy (they should anyway). Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. They should all be running corrections!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Kerry says:

    How can the media misquote a book they probably did not read?

  2. wmeyer says:

    They should all be running corrections!

    Right. Because they all hold the truth so dear. Are thinking of the same media?

  3. Philangelus says:

    It kind of makes me wish the ox and the donkey were the ones writing the news reports. At least they showed up. :-)

  4. anilwang says:

    It’s just standard operating procedures for the media to stir up press over non-stories.
    (1) First publish that the Pope stated that the there were no ox or donkey in the stable and other animals were likely there.
    (2) Then publish that oxen and donkeys are mandatory

    From here, if it can go many ways if it goes on at all.
    (3) Set up a debate of theologians on the appropriateness of keeping or leaving out oxen and donkeys, and whether other animals such as camels are better.
    (4) Petition against the oppressive Vatican trying to control our nativities.
    (5) Rant about how the Vatican is willing to change its “policy” on nativity displays but not its “policy” on [fill in the blanks]
    (6) A response from the “Humanist” League that there is no problem with animals being at the nativity, but they just want to get rid of baby Jesus.
    (7) PETA response to banning all animals at nativity displays
    (8) A joint statement by PETA and the “Humanist” League that neither animals nor Jesus should be at nativity scenes.

  5. teomatteo says:

    I’ve always been interested in the dating of our Lords birth, what with the eclipses, and conjunctions and all. I recently came upon an article: ( that concluded that Herod died in early A.D. 1 and our Lord’s birth was then probably April 6-9 (near passover) in 1 B.C.
    Interesting that.

  6. Hibernian Faitfhful says:

    I thought that the Church was non-empirical morons and now the Holy Father says that facts are facts re: date and animals and he is a moron – thinking like that could get you the replacement to Sean the Apostate @ the Fishwrap or job at the Bitter Pill

  7. Tradster says:

    I rarely see any oxen but unfortunately there is an overabundance of asses.

  8. PostCatholic says:

    Truly, no nativity scene is complete without a caganer, q.v. [Not nice.]

  9. Tradster says:

    PostCatholic: Ok, now that is disturbing!

  10. mike cliffson says:

    Since when has journalism been about truth?

  11. frater sejunctus parvulus says:

    The mainstream media usually lob a few grenades ahead of Christmas and Easter, so it is pleasing that Pope Benedict has pipped them to the post with a thoughtful and clear confession of Christ the Lord. [Good catch.]

    The world so detests its Maker and Saviour that it has to drip sarcasm and venom even on non-issues, such as the dating worked out by Dionysius Exiguus and the animals in the manger.

    This all shows that the Devil is receiving a few blows in the process.

  12. acardnal says:

    Anyone simpleton can be vulgar, PostCatholic. It’s much more challenging to use one’s brain and engage in intelligent debate and discussion.

  13. acardnal says:

    sic: “”Any simpleton . . . .”

  14. VexillaRegis says:

    Me thinks this is the best and most historically accurate nativity scene ever presented : The Pope should have spoken to Mr Bean bofore he wrote that new book! ;-P

  15. LisaP. says:

    Mr, Bean!

    That was terrific, we’re all sitting on the couch laughing, I’m counting that in home school today!

  16. gracie says:


    That is absolutely darling! Thanks for posting it.

  17. anilwang says:

    Oldly enough, Mr. Bean’s version might be quite accurate if you look at it symbolically. :-)

    After all, the hustle and bustle of life did go on around the nativity with the world completely unaware that their new born King was sleeping inside.

    Even the dinosaur isn’t too far off, given Revelation 12:3-5 about the Dragon that was waiting to devour Jesus when he was born, and later passages on the war in heaven between the Dragon and St. Michael.

    As for the Daleks, hmmmmm……King Herod yelling “Exterminate!” to anyone under 3?

    It just goes to show that sometimes there is more truth in comedy than in “scholarly Christmas Specials”.

  18. Blaise says:

    Fr Z, I followed your link to the UK Kindle edition but got a 404 Page not found error. If I follow the link to the UK hardcover version and then shop at Amazon will you get the benefit?

  19. Scarltherr says:

    I’m so glad you posted this. Until the finals are graded, I won’t have time to pursue any extra reading. As I was assessing, pun intended, my Nativity collection, I was apologizing to the oxen and ass. I told them that the Pope may not believe they were there, but that I knew they wanted to be there! For goodness sake, media types clearly can’t think outside of their post-modern, recycled glass, renewable energy, high-rise box.

  20. chcrix says:

    … when shopping online think “I’ll use Fr. Z’s links for amazon first and then navigate in amazon to where I want to go!”

    So, how does this really work. Does Fr. Z get credit for any shopping I do while in Amazon, or just those items that he has a link to? In other words, if I use the link to buy J. of N. part III and add “Gran Torino” to the cart during the transaction does he get credit for both?

  21. Matt R says:

    On the calendar: obviously Christ wasn’t born in the year 0. No one in power would have known to start the calendar over! (Didn’t Rome count from the founding of the city, and the Jews from the creation?) I think it’s pretty good that the monk was only about 4-6 years off in his work. And besides, what the media is missing (and doesn’t care about) is that it is right and proper that we date our calendar around the Incarnation.
    Silly lame-stream media members don’t know how to do their jobs. And, the misinformation plays right into the hands of the people who don’t know more than what is on the Internet memes that can be accessed from smartphones.

  22. Michelle F says:

    The Mr. Bean clip was great! I never watched any of the TV programs or movies, so I don’t have anything to judge it against, but I thought it was very clever.

    Too bad that cop showed up and spoiled everything. Did he represent the secular/atheist State? The State’s always raining on our parades, you know!

  23. VexillaRegis says:

    :-) Yes, Mr Bean is hilarious! On Boxing Day I always watch the episode about Mr B’s Christmas and New Year’s party. Maybe you can order them from Amazon.

  24. jaykay says:

    MattR: “Silly lame-stream media members don’t know how to do their jobs”

    Unfortunately, MattR, they ARE doing their jobs… which in the case of much of what passes for journalism these days is to inflate a basic non-story into something that they hope will be controversial and/or give another kicking to those silly Christians with their ridiculous cultic beliefs. And they know that the level of ignorance or indifference of the general population will be such that the confected non-story will be accepted as fact. Or factoid, more like.

    And as a headline, it’s attention-grabbing, because of course they’re under immense pressure to sell their product, so if a few little facts get tweaked along the way, well…

    All of which reminds me of the (probably apocryphal) story about the competition once held in the London Times for the most boring headline ever, the winner being: “Small earthquake in Chile; not many dead”.

    Anilwang: your comment @ 7:44 on 28th: excellent! :)

  25. inara says:

    I had never heard of a “caganer”, so off to Wiki I went…my initial reaction was “EEEW! How disgusting & disrespectful!”, but on further reading there were a couple gems in the explanation of why such a figure would be hidden within the Nativity scene:
    “The Caganer reinforces the belief that the infant Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.”
    “The idea that God will manifest himself when he is ready, without regard for whether we human beings are ready or not.” LOL~ indeed!! Reminds me of the half dozen or so earthquakes I experienced while living in CA, which always seemed to happen while I was in the bathroom.

  26. PostCatholic says:

    It’s an odd Catholic custom to be sure. I suspect good taste and good reason that it isn’t more widespread.

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