“Traduttore, traditore…”

“To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it.” (CCC 2478)

Good news!

This post by Sr. Anne at nunblog clarifies how, so far, two major head-scratchers (or groaners, depending on your aerobic capacity) in the ‘encounter’ with Scalfari were mistranslated. As I indicated in my initial response to the Scalfari incident, I have a feeling that the Repubblica interview will undergo another translation into English––along with the by now customary, ahem, translation of Francis’s words by orthodox commentators from English into English––, since there were a few lexical hiccups in the version available on La Repubblica‘s website indicative of a rushed translation. This is all good news, but, as I am genuinely loath to conclude, these revisions do little to ameliorate the overall scandalous and confused nature of the Pope’s latest “off the cuff remarks”.

Let me start with the second mistranslation, since the one prior to it involves a lot more complexities. On the Repubblica website it reads:

“The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood.”

And so naturally we was all like:

wait-what-meme-rage-face

So then we read it again, but we was still all:

kattwilliamsiscrazy

Fortunately, though, before we had to go through that again, we found Sr. Anne saying, “The Italian is ‘Il Figlio di Dio si è incarnato per infondere nell’anima degli uomini il sentimento della fratellanza’: ‘The Son of God became incarnate to infuse into the soul of men [could say ‘the human soul’] the feeling of brotherhood.'”

Although I think the Pope’s implication that the chief end of the Incarnation was to foster the spirit of brotherhood is, well, customarily wonky, this clarification is a huge relief!

When I first read the sentence, I thought Pope Francis really had jumped the shark. Even now, I “know” that I “should” have assumed the “best” possible interpretation, but, as I keep saying, with Pope Francis, it’s incredibly hard to know what the best interpretation is. What if we let him mean what he actually says? What if he changes his emphasis and tone every couple days, fer, like, discernment, and stuff?

Until I learned of the mistranslation, I was torn between thinking Francis is a plain old heretical nut, or thinking it would just take a few explanatory blog posts to lead me to where in the Catechism it says exactly what Francis had meant. That––being pinioned by that dilemma––is how I’ve felt for the past week, at least. Alienated from my own faith. Blinkered by the Pope’s infelicitous expressions. Shamed for expressing my discomfiture. By this point it wouldn’t surprise me to find some clever explanation for even the originally mistranslated sentence, based on some Francisian apologist’s brilliant reconstruction of it “in the larger context of X, Y, and Z.” If I did find such a defense, and if it seemed as legitimate as any of the other valorizing attempts I’ve seen from most mainstream Catholics on the Pope Francis Clean-Up crew, I really don’t know what “Catholic orthodoxy” would even mean to me anymore.

Fortunately, though, I do not need to countenance such a surreal climax.

For I can write off the Pope’s bizarre incarnational claim as a mistranslation.

Believe it or not, that’s exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with all the other eye-popping expressions I’ve been grappling with lately.

Only, not always as successfully.

As you’re about to see.

+ + +

Consider the first statement that Sr. Anne says is being needlessly scorned. On the Repubblica website it reads:

“Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.”

Sr. Anne comments, “This is where it is really, really helpful to know Italian: ‘Ciascuno di noi ha una sua visione del Bene e anche del Male. Noi dobbiamo incitarlo a procedere verso quello che lui pensa sia il Bene‘ is more literally (and helpfully?) translated as ‘Each one of us has his/her own vision of the Good or even of Evil. We must encourage him/her to move toward that which he/she sees [or thinks of] as the Good.'”

That’s all well and good, but I don’t see how this expels the strong whiff of relativism in the Pope’s claim here. Saying, “We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good” versus saying, “We must encourage [each person] to move toward that which he thinks of as the Good,” is a distinction without a difference. If his statement, as originally translated, reeked of relativism, as even his more sober defenders admit, then the amended translation is no less repellent in its implications.

Or?

What am I missing? Help!

(Please don’t just say “context.”)

+ + +

While we’re on the topic of helping, I’d like to point out yet another instance of the obsequiousness driving Pope Francis’s most exculpatory handlers.

First, Sr. Anne nudges us all to lighten up a bit with her “and helpfully?” caveat. Then she rounds out her gloss of the mistranslated statement with a reasonable, nuanced theological correction, even though the Pope himself deemed such theological solicitude unnecessary. “The Pope,” she tells us, “is not leveling the difference between truth and untruth, right and wrong: he is saying that we all have a duty to encourage people to pursue the Good, knowing that the true Good will not fail to manifest himself, even if ‘through a glass darkly.’

Really?

Is that what he said?

Or is it merely what we know he should have said?

I know, I know, “context.”

Oy.

Heaven forbid the Pope should think to forestall grave theological errors when talking with an atheist in an interview he well knows is going to impact the entire world. I also understand and accept that we can’t “leave everything up to the Pope,” and that we lay persons must exert ourselves in proclaiming the Church’s teaching. Nonetheless, why are so many of the laity’s exertions lately being wasted on menial tasks like couching the Pope’s words in a sophisticated theological context when the Pope himself consistently sees unfit to do so on his own? Being “a son of the Church” does not give you carte blanche to ramble off anything you think sounds nice and adequately orthodoxoid. Or as The Sensible Bond, in a post I’ve cited before, puts it, “Francis is all kindness and seems to assume that because he is a ‘son of the Church’, nobody will mistake his meaning.”

Indeed, Pope Francis went out of his way to make sure his meaning is not mistaken, which is precisely why Sr. Anne’s valiant efforts to rehabilitate the Pope’s mistranslated point ultimately fails. Notice what follows directly after the mistranslated claim about Good and Evil:

Your Holiness, you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that’s one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope.

“And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

[Lei, Santità, l’aveva già scritto nella lettera che mi indirizzò. La coscienza è autonoma, aveva detto, e ciascuno deve obbedire alla propria coscienza. Penso che quello sia uno dei passaggi più coraggiosi detti da un Papa.

«E qui lo ripeto. Ciascuno ha una sua idea del Bene e del Male e deve scegliere di seguire il Bene e combattere il Male come lui li concepisce. Basterebbe questo per migliorare il mondo».]

Here the Pope not only says that everyone’s conscience is autonomous, even if it is ill formed, but also emphasizes beyond all doubt that the relativistic ambiguity of his prior statement (the one resurrected by Sr. Anne) is in fact to be understood in its liberal, relativist sense.

So.

Yeah.

We already know Francis is the honey badger pope. I myself had fun with that ‘meme’ when it first started circulating, but, since then, and, ironically, especially in light of Dr. Popcak’s reflection, one of the most widely praised “big interview” responses among the clean-up orthodox, I’ve come to a time-saving decision on how to deal with what are probably inevitably more such “interviews” from this “humble” pope––a pope so humble, mind you, that he’s either agreed to or set in motion over 16,000 words of commentary and media fixation on himself in the past two weeks alone.

What’s my time saver?

It turns out that I needn’t be alarmed or scandalized, since Pope Francis is not even really talking to the likes me––the enclosed, orthodox, the morally zealous Catholics, the saved ninety-nine. He’s talking to the one lost sheep, to the outsider, to the rebel. So, in so far as he’s not talking to me, I’m no longer listening to him, well, until he chooses to speak authoritatively  and unambiguously as the Pastor the Church from the Seat of Peter.

In closing, since my new mantra is “laugh so you don’t cry,” I’ve come up with a new strain of jokes: “Pope Francis and a journalist walk into a bar and the journalist asks the Pope what he’s drinking. The Pope answers, ‘________,’ but then the bartender blurts out, ‘Well, actually, in context, what he meant to say is….’

You’ve gotta laugh so you don’t cry.

Advertisements

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to “Traduttore, traditore…”

  1. Crude says:

    While I’m trying to keep an eye on myself so I don’t end up becoming one of those schmucks who defends even inane things the Pope says, I am willing to take a crack at this one. (Also I’m relieved about the incarnation thing. That had me wondering wtf too – and it’s why I begged off from any doctrinal orthodoxy talk as out of my league, in part.)

    That’s all well and good, but I don’t see how this expels the strong whiff of relativism in the Pope’s claim here. Saying, “We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good” versus saying, “We must encourage [each person] to move toward that which he thinks of as the Good,” is a distinction without a difference. If his statement, as originally translated, reeked of relativism, as even his more sober defenders admit, then the amended translation is no less repellent in its implications.

    I don’t think the pope is making any relativistic claim here. I think he just means, A) if someone sincerely believes there is such a thing as good, and B) tries their best to do that which is good, then C) on the whole, the world is going to improve.

    The key would be 1) accepting that there is a real and true good to pursue to begin with, and 2) to sincerely pursue it. I’m thinking of the whole argument that the moral law is written on men’s hearts – and likewise, I’m willing to accept that few people at, say… NARAL, really believe that what they are doing can rightly be considered ‘pursuing the good’. Pursuing what they like, maybe. But the Pope’s words are of no use to the nihilist.

    I will say, however… this quote by you stood out to me.

    It turns out that I needn’t be alarmed or scandalized, since Pope Francis is not even really talking to the likes me––the enclosed, orthodox, the morally zealous Catholics, the saved ninety-nine. He’s talking to the one lost sheep, to the outsider, to the rebel. So, in so far as he’s not talking to me, I’m no longer listening to him, well, until he chooses to speak authoritatively and unambiguously as the Pastor the Church from the Seat of Peter.

    This sounds so apt. And I feel it as well. I really am encouraged by the Pope trying to communicate with people who dislike the church. I think so far he really has tried to do this without sacrificing orthodoxy. But you know what? I’d like to be encouraged as well. I don’t demand exclusive attention, but if the Pope could find it in his schedule to address me sometime, or people like me? It’d be encouraging. I don’t want to be ignored because ‘well you defend the Church orthodoxy anyway, you’re not who we need to worry about’.

  2. Crude:

    As I hope a couple of my more irenic posts make clear, I’m also trying to watch myself so I don’t become the other kind of schmuck. I’m really trying to focus on the good and then work through what comments leap off the page and seem bound to cause the most scandal. I’m blogging to clear my head and get a mic check, as it were, from people I can trust to engage my worries reasonably. To hear other people tell it, there’s not even a hint of scandal to be found in the Pope’s interviews, so my unquiet makes me feel almost literally insane. It’s like if I joined a dinner banquet and then noticed a huge turd on the table, yet anytime I try to address the problem, I get blank stares and condescendingly sympathetic smiles. Headasplode.

    Now, even the first time I read his comments on conscience and the good, I forced myself to admit that it basically fits into Catholic doctrine in a particular sense, and I acknowledged that he was using it with a post-Christian, etc., etc…. but the more I pondered it, the more some things kept jabbing at me.

    Notice the question Scalfari asked, “[Is there] a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?”

    The Pope answers (in Sr. Anne’s words), “Each one of us has his/her own vision of the Good or even of Evil. We must encourage him/her to move toward that which he/she sees as the Good,” and thereby fails to affirm that there is a unified, higher, common Good.

    Since I probably already sound like I’m just rehashing what I posted to begin with, let me just keep plowing forward!

    Even if we grant that nothing is amiss in his answer, here’s the perplexing thing. There has been a distinct impression by more than a few fans of Francis that, unless this utterance is properly parsed, it does smack of relativism. Notice that even Scalfari is taken aback by the Pope”s “courageous” and, implicitly, novel statement. That’s the entire reason Sr. Anne says a proper translation salvages it, as well as why so many bloggers have leaped on Sr. Anne revision with palpable relief. They all realize something was definitely off in his answer, and now they feel they can assuage their fears by blaming a bad translation.

    However, my point is that if a) orthodox Catholics recognize the problem with the statement as originally translated, but b) can’t explain a meaningful difference between the first and the newer translation, then c) they should detect the same problem in the freshly translated statement.

    This is particularly the case when you see how Francis entrenches the point, meaning, the very next thing he says explodes the healthier interpretation of the mistranslated line: “Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

    This is horseshit. Not even a hint that one should pursue good and reject evil as they really are. I was fine with him, in the first answer, encouraging non-believers to follow their consciences implicitly as the light of natural reason, but his follow-up statement gives away the game. For it blithely gives yet another cudgel to non-believers to beat back Catholic apologists and even well meaning catechists on the grounds that, “Look, your own Pope said that all I need to do to make the world better and to achieve ‘salvation’ is do what I think is right and to fight evil as I see it. Unfortunately for you, I think the highest good is a religion-free world in which the Church cannot tamper with human autonomy. I fight you, again, totally in accord with my ‘autonomous’ conscience (high five, Pope Francis!), because I view your Church’s moral teachings as the embodiment of evil, as the very face of what’s wrong with the world.” Even worse, it gives the same cudgel to pro-choice, contraceptive, dissident Catholics. The Pope is literally endorsing the idea that the world would be a better place if the most convinced opponents of the Church’s teaching kept fighting against the truth for as long as they lived. He makes not a peep about the world being better if by that struggle we all came to accord on the good. I know that Fr. Z said that this doesn’t let dissident Catholics off the hook, but that qualification is based on the Church’s prior teaching, not, to my knowledge, on anything Pope Francis has said so far.

    Having said so much about the simple, radiant message of the Gospel in the Spadaro interview, here the Pope blows a tremendous opportunity to insert Jesus into the encounter as the embodiment of all the good that people are, even unwittingly, seeking in obeying their consciences. If that really is what the Church should be “obsessed” with, how hard would it have been to insert that simple, beautiful truth? Instead, ironically, the Pope just ends up talking about abstract moral principles, which is what he implied is off-balance in the Church. It’s much the same with Francis’s words about Jesus leading people to the Father. Fatefully, he has Jesus say, “I will show you the way,” when all he needed to say, and the very thing he should have said is, “Jesus is the way” and that His way is one of love, love, love. As I keep saying, if it’s so easy for we lowly lay persons to say these things on the Pope’s behalf, why is it so hard for him to say them when he needs to? It’s just too painfully obvious to me that the Pope does not know, or perhaps even care, how to handle himself on some important matters in these damned interviews he keeps giving, so, literally for God’s sake, he needs to stop. Just…STAHP.

    (Speaking of natural law, I’d genuinely love to see anything Bergoglio/Francis has said in defense of it. My guess is that it there are no such statements, or that they are extremely historicist and dismissive.)

  3. Oh, and you’re correct that your account/defense of his statement hinges on premise A. As I say, though, if it was so simple for you to present that syllogism, why can’t the Pope do the same? He’s a homilist. He’s a Jesuit. He’s a scientist. He’s no dim bulb. Is he on some kind of medication during these interviews–and I have genuinely, respectfully wondered that lately–that makes it hard for him to organize his thoughts? I doubt it. Hence, I’m convinced he’s just being sloppy in order to come across as a straight shooter, a nice guy, a simple country padre, the people’s pope, etc. But as much as I hate to keep reminding him, he’s first and foremost the Church’s pope.

  4. Crude says:

    Codg,

    To hear other people tell it, there’s not even a hint of scandal to be found in the Pope’s interviews, so my unquiet makes me feel almost literally insane.

    Oh, I’m not saying that at all. Especially when you put it like ‘scandal’. Scandal has a lot to do with perspective, and insofar as that’s the case, there seems to be a good deal of scandal. I could easily cop to the idea that the Pope could have said things far better than he did – that presumes I’m certain of what he was aiming for, of course. But superficially, sure, there’s at the very least subjective scandal.

    The Pope answers (in Sr. Anne’s words), “Each one of us has his/her own vision of the Good or even of Evil. We must encourage him/her to move toward that which he/she sees as the Good,” and thereby fails to affirm that there is a unified, higher, common Good.

    Sure, but I don’t think the Pope was arguing for that then and there. Keep in mind, the Pope was talking to not only an atheist, but I’m pretty sure a rather materialist atheist, and he seems to be wanting to address non-believers in that exchange primarily. If he said ‘look, there’s only a single good, and you have to follow it’ – first, not exactly news that the Pope thinks that or that the Church teaches that. Second, the talk becomes a lecture, and I think that’s clearly not something the Pope wants. Sure, I think he could have said, ‘I believe in a singular good, but I also believe people who truly try to follow their consciences are working towards this good whether they know it or not.’ or the like. But then we’re still stuck, and we’re definitely still open to misinterpretation.

    There has been a distinct impression by more than a few fans of Francis that, unless this utterance is properly parsed, it does smack of relativism. Notice that even Scalfari is taken aback by the Pope”s “courageous” and, implicitly, novel statement. That’s the entire reason Sr. Anne says a proper translation salvages it, as well as why so many bloggers have leaped on Sr. Anne revision with palpable relief. They all realize something was definitely off in his answer, and now they feel they can assuage their fears by blaming a bad translation.

    I’m not sure a ‘proper translation’ really salvages it, or has to. Just the plain reading of what I saw.. again, notice that the Pope doesn’t say, ‘Just follow your conscience. That’s what good is.’ He says that if we all followed our consciences, then the world would probably improve. I think that’s a pretty broad statement, along the lines of saying ‘a free market is going to largely lead to more people being employed, more people being fed.’ Now on the one hand you can scream to high heavens that if you say that, you’re enabling the most nasty Ayn Randites to say ‘Hey, being totally greedy is allowed in the free market. You just said this is going to be a net positive, so leave me alone!’ On the other hand, no, that’s not what was said, and it’s a mistake to translate talk of a net improvement into justification of individual actions.

    I was fine with him, in the first answer, encouraging non-believers to follow their consciences implicitly as the light of natural reason, but his follow-up statement gives away the game. For it blithely gives yet another cudgel to non-believers to beat back Catholic apologists and even well meaning catechists on the grounds that, “Look, your own Pope said that all I need to do to make the world better and to achieve ‘salvation’ is do what I think is right and to fight evil as I see it. Unfortunately for you, I think the highest good is a religion-free world in which the Church cannot tamper with human autonomy. I fight you, again, totally in accord with my ‘autonomous’ conscience (high five, Pope Francis!), because I view your Church’s moral teachings as the embodiment of evil, as the very face of what’s wrong with the world.” Even worse, it gives the same cudgel to pro-choice, contraceptive, dissident Catholics. The Pope is literally endorsing the idea that the world would be a better place if the most convinced opponents of the Church’s teaching kept fighting against the truth for as long as they lived.

    Here are some problems I have with this reply.

    * First, you’re thinking about the craftiest, most dishonest, mercenary atheists and pro-abortion Catholics out there. Sure, they exist – but really, there’s nothing the Pope can say to them that will pacify them anyway. Francis could have given a one hour long diatribe about the evils of abortion – what NARAL devotee will listen? What’s more, honestly… do you think those people are following their consciences, or doing ‘the good’ even on their own terms? Again, Francis’ words don’t carry much weight for nihilists.

    * Second, though… the Pope didn’t specify ‘liberals and atheists’ in his statement. The statement -applies to you and me too-. *We* should follow our consciences as well. So if the pro-choice “Catholic” tells you that, well, you have a ready reply to them. Again, I can only care so much about those sorts, because in my experience they are radically insincere. The only value of Francis’ words is the same exact value Benedict’s or PJPII’s words had for them – advancing their causes. If they had to advance it by twisting it and making Benedict seem like a monster, that’s what they did. If they have to advance it by twisting it and making it seem like Francis is blessing abortion, they’ll do that too. I’m not concerned about dialogue with those people. I’m far more concerned about, say… the person who thinks abortion should be legal, up to the first trimester, but after that thinks there should be restrictions. Or people who support gay marriage not because they’re diehard LGBT gestapo, but because their best friend is gay and they don’t want to hurt their feelings, etc. I think that’s who Francis has in mind here.

    * No, I don’t think the Pope is endorsing what you say he’s endorsing. Again, his statement really seemed to be about the net effect, but you’re focusing on individual extremes. I don’t think that works. To use a more neutral example – it’s a little like pointing out that over a given series of 100 investments, you’ll turn a net 20% profit. If you point out that some of these investments see you losing 5, 10% – ‘this is NOT helping me get to 20%!’ – you’re right. But you’re also missing the point of what was said, because it’s the net result that the statement was addressing, not those individual moves.

    As I keep saying, if it’s so easy for we lowly lay persons to say these things on the Pope’s behalf, why is it so hard for him to say them when he needs to?

    Because the Pope is addressing non-believers and people distant from the Church, and he’s trying to address them on terms they can accept to a degree. When the Pope said that proselytization is useless – a statement I disagree with, btw – he said that what was important was a conversation, getting to know people. THAT I agree with.

    Let me compare to something I do. If I’m talking with an agnostic or an atheist friend of mine, if I want to bring Christ to them, I don’t open up with a salvo of bible quotes. I don’t even talk about Christianity. I start talking about a designing mind, a fundamental mental aspect to the world, I talk about simple and bare theism or deism. And I do that because I think that’s precisely where I need to start to get anywhere – what am I going to do, talk about transubstantiation with the guy who stupidly think science shows no God whatsoever exists? I have to start somewhere else. And when I start with something like that, in my experience, I get somewhere. Now someone can turn around and say ‘You’re not preaching Christianity there!’ Well, no, I suppose I’m not. Neither did Aquinas with the Five Ways – that alone doesn’t get you to Christ. But I think we both know it gets you somewhere important.

    Again, I’m not saying what the Pope did here is perfect. I think he desperately, at this point, needs to show that he respects the efforts of the orthodox – people who really are suffering for their faith, who put up with a lot of bullshit. (Yes, I maintain that SoCons have made a lot of mistakes – but I also think they’ve engaged in a lot of good fights, a lot of sincere effort, and that deserves recognition, even respect.) But I also understand, or think I understand, why he’s saying some of what he’s saying, why he’s doing some of what he’s doing. I think he can easily go too far – if he becomes the Pope bending over backwards to get a lick of a compliment from Richard effin Dawkins, I’ll be pissed. But if he’s trying hard to connect with the disaffected 20-something who thinks (and I have run into these people in abundance) the Catholic position on homosexuality is ‘if you’re gay, you’re burning in hell unless you become straight’, there I’ll be more forgiving.

  5. I’ll take a quick crack. Remember Pope Benedict’s semi-legendary response about condom use in Africa that he gave during an interview? Even when I read it at the time I thought it was a little off. It still reads that way to me, but now I know how to explain it. I tell people that a prostitute using a condom was akin, to use Benedict’s language, to a man deciding he was only going to beat his wife with oven mitts. Is it still a sin? Yes. Is that a sign that perhaps he might be getting a conscience? Yes.

    The point being that these “obvious” analogies that occur to us may not be obvious to the person speaking or writing at the time.

  6. Sal Minella says:

    It’d be encouraging. I don’t want to be ignored because ‘well you defend the Church orthodoxy anyway, you’re not who we need to worry about’.

    Heck, even if he just said that, it would be encouragement enough.

  7. Pingback: Papa Frankie is at it again… | FideCogitActio : omnis per gratiam

  8. Pingback: The F1 F/X Files… | FideCogitActio : omnis per gratiam

  9. Codgitator excellent article! I can share this to my college students?
    Greetings.

    P.D: I love the memes posted! clap! clap!

  10. By all means. I’m glad you liked it.

Be kind, be (relatively) brief, be clear...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s