“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)
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:
So then we read it again, but we was still all:
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.
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.’”
Is that what he said?
Or is it merely what we know he should have said?
I know, I know, “context.”
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.
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.
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.