Evangelii gaudium: Translation issues, problems

I am detecting rumblings that the English translation of the Pope’s new (first) Apostolic Exhortation is not so hot and that it may be, in some key places misleading.

There are always going to be differences in opinion about how to render texts.  Also, though we are not sure about this, the original was probably Spanish.  (Yet, another reason for me to get to work.)

Since yesterday, two new languages have been added to the Holy See’s website: Polish and Portuguese.

NB: No Latin.

It could be good to identify some key paragraphs here so that we can take a collective look at them in, perhaps, separate posts.

The moderation queue is on and I may be a little picky.

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  1. Bosco says:

    Given the pea soup fog surrounding papal communications these days reports of new imprecisions are hardly surprising. It is indeed a pity that it was not issued in Latin.

  2. Jacob says:

    Certain media are starting to get worked up over Francis’ view of economics and how it compares to John Paul’s. Maybe start with some of the passages quoted? [Which are…]

  3. Bob B. says:

    I always thought, if the text wasn’t written in Latin to begin with, then it translated into Latin first. I guess not, but it seems a logical thing to do. [The composition and translation of papal documents has been a goat rodeo for decades.]

  4. Robbie says:

    I’d like to see some discussion on passage #43.

    [Discussion is one thing. Discussion stemming from problems of TRANSLATION is another.]

  5. ChuckShunk says:

    I suggest this sentence from #253: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”

    On the face of it, this last clause of this statement is plainly untrue, but I could see this statement being less problematic with different wording.

  6. Andrew says:

    I am kind of glad that there is no Latin version of this document. If it was produced in Latin I would welcome it eagerly but I don’t like certain Latin “translations” of documents written in the vernacular. Latin should not be used as an afterthought to Spanish or English or some other “major” vernacular language. Our generation has developed its own style of speaking, sometimes called appropriately “newspeak” whereby instead of using definitions that describe the substance of truths, they rely heavily on popular labels and sound bites carrying vague but popular connotations. Here is a sample sentence from our document in question:
    “We need to grow in a solidarity which would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny since every person is called to self fulfillment.”
    I really abhor the idea of trying to twist Latin into a similar pretzel. Pope John XXIII wrote in Veterum Sapientia that Latin is also very useful for avoiding “inanem loquacitatem” (empty chatter). How very true! What is the meaning of “growing in solidarity”? Isn’t it vague? Notice how much of this language is passive! Where are the active verbs that would indicate something concrete? Something that an average person can, and should, and must do? What can I do so as to make the human race “grow in solidarity”? I can love my wife better. I can be more industrious in my duties towards my children, and my friends, and my colleges at work. And I might name the virtues that it would require or the vices that I have to avoid. But what specific action can I or anyone take to make the whole world “grow in solidarity”? And that’s just one example. Many of the latest documents coming out of the Vatican are nearly incomprehensible in Latin because they are conceived in vernacular jargons heavily tied to the popular speech mannerism of our day. Sometimes, thinking of the essence of a longer sentence, I come to realize that it would have been enough to use one word to describe the entire concept. The rest of it is pure fluff.

  7. J_Cathelineau says:

    There are some comprehension issues even in Spanish. Par example #222, a paragraph that is quite dark in the original Spanish text but has a bit of an explanation in #223. In my opinion the term “utopia” could have a better catholic expression just by saying “Reign of Christ”, but that is not a translation problem cause is written. And all the rest is just a complicated way to say “be patient in adversity”

    Then #24 has a typical argentine slang “primerear”, which is more than “taking the first step”: its something like “be astute, even agressive, and don´t let your enemy take the initiative”

    I think that the good approach to the text is just going to the core, like when it says that: “It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life”. (that is certainly a gold nugget) The rest is metalanguage, that can´t be used in any practical way.

  8. Mike says:

    If, as is my understanding, this document is the Holy Father’s distillation of group input, it seems to me that there are bound to be formidable translation and distillation issues upstream of the normative output, irrespective of whatever language that normative output is in.

    Not to have foreseen and mitigated such difficulties would seem to be more than trivially imprudent.

  9. Polycarpio says:

    Fr. Lombardi has confirmed that Pope Francis worked in Spanish. I have seen the document elsewhere referred to as a “compendium” of various things the Pope has already said, and that seems to be an accurate way to describe much of the content. For example, in his May 16 greeting to new ambassadors, … […]

  10. lana says:

    End of #253
    ” porque el verdadero Islam y una adecuada interpretación del Corán se oponen a toda violencia.

    to translate word-for-word:

    “… because true Islam and an adequate interpretation of the Koran are opposed to all violence.”

  11. jacobi says:


    I suspect it is a “compendium” and I wonder who compliled it. It is enormous. My word count gave over 48,000 words for the text not including the references, which take quite along time, after all. And, of course, the translations!

    Did Pope Francis have time to read it properly?

  12. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Yes, in the German too: “For an appropriate interpretation of the Koran is opposed to all violence.”
    Perhaps this rather optimistic view can be best understood by its context (the immediately preceding direct appeal to Islamic countries to tolerate the Christian religion within their borders).

    274: “Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love. Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life.”

    The English and German say (I think rather misleadingly): “…if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life.”
    To ‘have a better life’ suggests (in both English and German) a material or at least a secular improvement of quality of life, particularly given the preceding discourse on poverty.
    What the Pope really meant here however is ‘to live better’ – ie ‘if I can help at least one person to live [?morally, ?spiritually] better’ – as is clearer in the Spanish (and the French): “Por ello, si logro ayudar a una sola persona a vivir mejor, eso ya justifica la entrega de mi vida.”

    One might of course wonder whether this concept of a class of active and responsible doers who are helping passive non-doers to ‘live better’ may seem rather contradictory (for surely it is Christ Himself who operates on us all through our free will) but one might think of it as a process of the new evangelization, I suppose: and at least the Spanish makes it clearer what the Holy Father did not mean. (I think. :-)

  13. Bea says:

    ChuckShunk says:
    I suggest this sentence from #253: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”

    I don’t know if the following will be of help to you but here is my input on your question with the wording. (The Spanish below is the complete input on #253.)

    253. Para sostener el diálogo con el Islam es indispensable la adecuada formación de los interlocutores, no sólo para que estén sólida y gozosamente radicados en su propia identidad, sino para que sean capaces de reconocer los valores de los demás, de comprender las inquietudes que subyacen a sus reclamos y de sacar a luz las convicciones comunes. Los cristianos deberíamos acoger con afecto y respeto a los inmigrantes del Islam que llegan a nuestros países, del mismo modo que esperamos y rogamos ser acogidos y respetados en los países de tradición islámica. ¡Ruego, imploro humildemente a esos países que den libertad a los cristianos para poder celebrar su culto y vivir su fe, teniendo en cuenta la libertad que los creyentes del Islam gozan en los países occidentals!

    Frente a episodios de fundamentalismo violento que nos inquietan, el afecto hacia los verdaderos creyentes del Islam debe llevarnos a evitar odiosas generalizaciones, porque el verdadero Islam y una adecuada interpretación del Corán se oponen a toda violence.

    ChuckShunk, The above sentence is the one you quote.
    THAT sentence should MORE correctly read:
    Facing episodes of violent fundamentalism that disquiet us, affection towards true believers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, because true Islam and an adequate interpretation of the Koran is opposed to all violence.

    The first part of 253 is very important, for it calls that it is indispensable that dialoguers (interlocutores) with Islam have an adequate formation and be solidly and joyously grounded in their own identity in order to be capable of recognizing the values of others ……. in order to bring to light, the common convictions

  14. Vecchio di Londra says:

    And I realize we’re looking at problems of translation here, but taking one quick view of the contents, and looking at the sections on the distortions of capitalism, I just wonder:
    Is there really a ‘new’ idolatry of money? It seems pretty old throughout global human society, in one form or another. What is new is extreme currency distortion by the secular state. Sections 55 to 60 give the Jesuit view of ‘the poor’ and as we might expect they lay the increasing disparity of wealth at the door of the wicked top-hatted employer, but they don’t address the direct responsibility of ‘the state’ (through its election-seeking politicians, its central banks, financial complicity, large admin apparatus and greed for taxes) in (pre-2007) deliberately turning a blind eye to, helping to cause, and above all in prolonging the financial crisis and creating a ‘new poor’ whose provident savings are stolen by fiscal manipulation to pay for property debts, the banks, and vote-chasing government borrowing. This new poor-and-getting-poorer does not live in romantic favelas, doesn’t steal or kill or take drugs, so can’t attract much attention, clerical or otherwise.

    Far from trying vainly to exercise ‘vigilance in the common good’ and being frustrated by capitalism, the complacent state just seems to want to become the greatest capitalist of them all: to grow like Topsy at our common expense, and to abrogate more power and curtail more of our personal freedoms every day. This needs addressing by the Holy Father, and I hope he will one day.

  15. jmgarciajr says:

    The English translation is ABYSMAL. So much so that posit it cannot be anything other than willful. In fact, I was so upset I started correctly translating it myself. The passages on economics seem especially egregiously bad.

  16. Rick DeLano says:

    All I want for Christmas is a retranslation out of existence of EG #254.

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