ASK FATHER: Is “Amoris laetitia” really translated “The Exuberance of Lust”?

From a reader…


I read in a couple obscure places that the literal translation of Amoris Laetitia (which was originally in Latin) is something along the lines of “the Exuberance of Lust”, based on common usage of the Latin words. Is that true?

A couple of things.

Official Church documents having a certain weight are generally known by their “incipit”, the first two or three words.  Hence, the Apostolic Letter by which John Paul II said that women can’t be ordained begins:

Ordinatio sacerdotalis, per quam munus traditur, quod Christus Apostolis suis concredidit fideles docendi, sanctificandi et regendi, in Ecclesia Catholica inde ab initio semper solis viris reservata est. Quam traditionem Ecclesiae etiam Orientales fideliter retinuerunt.

That’s why it is called: Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

Orthography can vary.  Some publications stick to tradition and use capital letters only when they are in the document.  For example, an ecumenical Council is always capitalized, hence, Sacrosanctum Concilium, but Lumen genitum and Gaudium et spes.  Summorum Pontificum but Amoris laetitia.  Again, depending on a publication’s style sheet this van vary, so that all the words are always capitalized.  But, that’s where the name comes from: the incipit.

In the past, documents were composed mainly in Latin.  Now they aren’t and Latin is relegated to a “translation” at the time it is released to the public in the first form.  However, the final, ultimately official form is to be found, later, in the Acta Apostolica Sedis, the official instrument of promulgation of Church documents.  The versions that appears in the AAS can have been revised.  Hence, it is important always to check the AAS version, in Latin, for Church’s official teaching.  Apropos, the LATIN of the changed CCC paragraph 2267 on capital punishment says something different from the vernacular versions.  This is important stuff.

Today, however, since documents are worked on in some other language than Latin, when the Holy See does something so foolish, so precipitous, so clearly ridiculous as to release the incipit title of a document long before it’s release, we are left to scratch our heads.  We know they aren’t writing in Latin, so why the pretense?

That’s why I almost pulled my hair out in frustration when I saw that the title of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation had been released – the LATIN title – without the rest of the sentence to which it belonged!  I wrote note after note to the Holy See Press Office hoping for an explanation, but I was ignored.  I even pointed out to them how truly awful that title could be translated without context.  Yes, “Exuberance of Lust” is a possibility.

You can equally say… pick one from one column and another from the other:



Eros/Cupid (personified)

Of course in Latin, “amor” can have all sorts of overtones, as it can in English (depending on the context).  Some of them would be clean and some would be filthy.

About “common usage”.  That varies.

Mind you, if a document is issued by a, say, cooking school or a government office or a car manufacturer, you suspect that the jargon of the document will follow a certain tradition of cooking, officing and manufacturing.

Similarly, you don’t expect that Church documents will have the same tenor as, say, a book by Alex Comfort or Alfred Kinsey.  At least… we never did before.

If you wanted to be creative and also ignore the context, ignore that it’s a papal document, you could render Amoris laetitia as just about anything, including “The Exuberance of Lust”.  And no one could say you were wrong… provided you ignored the context, the genre of the document.  Indeed, Amoris laetitia can mean that.

If we are going to talk about “common usage” through the whole of the history of Latin, then amor and laetitia are going to be connected in quite a few different contexts.   The poems of Catullus and the Imitation of Christ are both in Latin.  If I am reading a work by Theresa of Avila I might get a different overtone of a word like “love” than I would I were reading, say, The Kinsey Report.  (cf. Wiker on that one!)

You can sort of guess that Amoris laetitia wasn’t going to be about Greco-Roman myth and The Delight of Cupid (Amoris laetitia) when he mischievously zaps someone with his arrow, the rascal.  You can sort of guess that it isn’t going to be about orgasms as The Joy of Sex would imply (Amoris laetitia).

But, yes, you could indeed translate Amoris laetitia as “The Exuberance of Lust”.  That’s why it was really stupid of the Holy See to release the incipit title without a context.  People had all sorts of ideas about it.  I even wrote about it on this blog (for example HERE).

Anyway, if you were to have asked me before the document was released I would have responded that I was pretty sure that Amoris laetitia didn’t intend “The Joy of Sex”.   If you were to ask me after I read Chapter 8, I am not entirely sure that I would change my mind, or not.

Now, however, we know that the Exhortation begins:

Amoris laetitia quae in familiis viget laetitia est quoque Ecclesiae.

Which is, according to common use,

“Cupid’s happiness, which is in high esteem in the estate and its properties, is also the joy of the meeting of the senate and the people.”

Fun with Latin.

Then again… the Devil hates Latin.  And the Devil always tells you what he is up to, one way or another.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. iamlucky13 says:

    A very entertaining read, but also with some real food for thought.

  2. tho says:

    Father, post like this are the reason that I come here. You are truly informative, educational, and a pleasure to read.

  3. Sawyer says:

    Isn’t it possible that a plausibly deniable double entendre was intended? We’ve seen how such people can’t help themselves: they tell you what they’re about and they relish rubbing it in your face, thinking that they’re so clever. Remember the scandalous homoerotic nativity scene at the Vatican? All these ducks lining up can’t just be chalked up to coincidences, one after another, each with its own plausible deniability. The pattern seems clear enough to me. The Synod’s final document will be another example, I fear.

  4. Gab says:

    Educative post, thank you, Fr z.
    It would seem logical to me that all Official Church Documents should be first released in Latin and later translated from Latin into various languages. Translating a document from English into various languages is fraught with potential errors.

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    Is “Amoris laetitia” really translated “The Exuberance of Lust”?

    Not really, no — the ordinary words to express the concept of “lust” in Latin are libido or luxuria or concupiscentia or lascivia or so on (plus all the slang words).

    The ordinary meaning of the word “amor”, that it would be abusive to not use without proper reason, is love — and this is love of the sort found in family love, mother’s love with her children, deep friendship, and proper love between husband and wife.

    BTW, even the Latin idea of the Eros, which is erotic love in the Classical sense, is FAR more linked with marriage than the Greek, as there is a derived noun “erus” meaning someone who is linked to another in marriage.

    As for Laetititia, again “exuberance” would be unjustifiably forced — its primary meaning is clearly joy, deep happiness, what the French might call “bonheur” — though it does also have a sense in the Latin of “joyful relief, as from a sudden, good occurrence”.

    Its meaning is clearly the same as that found in the Latin expression “salutis laetitia” (Cicero).

    Other citations (I’ll skip attributions sorry) :

    Domine mi, dixit Deus de cantu Christianorum per os David: « Omnes gentes, plaudite manibus, et cantate Deo voce laudis (Psal. XLVI) . » Et alibi dicit: « Iubilate Deo, omnis terra, servite Domino in laetitia. »

    Quae caelo laetitia!

    In quo si quis fiducialiter anchoram spei fixerit, misericordia circumdabitur, sicut scriptum est, Qui sperat in Domino, sublevabitur (Prov. XXIX, 25) . Exspectatio iustorum laetitia, Psalmista attestante, qui ait: Sperantes autem in Domino misericordia circumdabit (Psal. XXXI, 10) . Et iterum: Beatus vir, cuius est nomen Domini spes eius (Psal. XXXIX, 5) . Quis enim speravit in Domino, et confusus est?

  6. Fr. Kelly says:

    To America’s enduring shame, in the late 1970’s there was a series of How-To- Manuals for sale in bookstores with the title “The Joy of Sex”. It is my understanding that they were replete with line drawings illustrating various “techniques”, etc. I expect that even Ovid would blush at these manuals.

    Even typing that makes me want to wash my hands.

    Nothing would persuade me to translate these books into Latin, but if I were to do such a nefarious thing, I would have to translate the title as “Amoris laetitiae” or something very similar.

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