Insolite dictu…

…or however you say “strange to report” in Latin.


“And then a thing that is really important for me: community. I was always looking for a community. I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community. And you can tell this by the fact that I am here in Santa Marta. At the time of the conclave I lived in Room 207. (The rooms were assigned by drawing lots.) This room where we are now was a guest room. I chose to live here, in Room 201, because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.

But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. …

When you express too much, you run the risk of being misunderstood. The Society of Jesus can be described only in narrative form. Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss. … The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking.

— Pope Francis to Fr. Spadaro, Sept. 2013

The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression.  The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.  The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings.”

— Pope Francis, 24 January 2014

Shortly after publishing my brief article about the pope’s theologically truncated tweet–“No one saves oneself. The community is essential.”–I discovered this article about the Latin version of the @Pontifex feed:

Pope’s Latin tweets surprise with roaring success
(AFP) By Jean-Louis De La Vaissiere
5 February 2014

Quis hoc crederet? Against all the odds, Pope Francis’s Latin-language Twitter account is a roaring success — boasting 208,000 followers on Wednesday [now 210,000, including myself]– more than those following papal tweets in German or Arabic. …

For its fans, the Italic language embodies “virtue and nobility of expression”, as well as “the ability to communicate across centuries”, [Fr. Daniel Gallagher] told AFP.

While Latin is well suited to Francis’s messages in terms of their brevity, his phrases are “difficult to translate, because his style is so informal”, Gallagher said. …

Isabelle Poinsot, a follower from Paris, said she found it “refreshing to read a small, pure thought each day” and found “the discrepancy between a modern medium and an ancient language rather amusing”.

Followers of the twitter account, @Pontifex_ln, are not just nerdy professors in stuffy academic offices or iPad-wielding priests. The largest cohort are German, followed by Britons, Americans and fellow fans from China, India and Africa.

I doubt that regular readers of FCA will fail to catch the irony in the bolded phrases.

As noted in the previous post, the pope very likely gets help crafting the tweets as the world sees them, which is partially what makes the “community” tweet so curious.

In Latin, the same tweet reads as follows: “Nemo solus salvatur. Communio potius necessaria est ad Christiane vivendum” (with about 80 retweets/favorites from 210,000 followers). It means, “No one is saved alone. The power of the community is necessary for living as a Christian.”

In German the tweet reads: “Niemand rettet sich von allein. Die gemeinschaftliche Dimension gehört wesentlich zum christlichen Leben” (also with about 80 retweet/favorites from among 171,000 followers). It translates as “No one is saved by himself. The communal dimension essentially belongs to the Christian life.”

Lastly, in Spanish we read: “Nadie se salva solo. La dimensión comunitaria es esencial en la vida cristiana”, which says in English,  “No one is saved alone. The communitarian dimension is essential in the Christian life”. This version enjoyed up to 5,000 retweet/favorites from a whopping 4.69 million followers.

The above are much more robust tweets, all things considered, so one wonders why the vast English audience, of 3.63 million followers, must suffer such consistently anemic and occasionally scandalous papal fare, not, I hasten to add, that the problem usually surfaces on the @Pontifex page. Indeed, I think the pope’s tweets are some of his best “material,” though, as you might be able to surmise, this is because “less is more.” Even so, to paraphrase Einstein, a Christian truth should be as simple as possible, but no simpler; as the Anglicized “community” tweet shows us, while less is more, sometimes too little is radically less.

I do not intend to read too much into these tweeted tea leaves, but I will reiterate my ongoing complaint. The problem is not always “what the pope said” as much as it is the militant reflex to gild and celebrate anything and everything “the pope says” as if he were an infallible beat poet. Not only is this state of mind idle, insofar as we often have no assurance what the pope did in fact say, but it’s also incoherent when it comes to light that, even by the Vatican’s standards, the originally defended locution could and should have been expressed better (i.e. that the original sophism was not so defensible, after all).

Of the more than 6,000 users who endorsed the pope’s obscure tweet about “community”, how many gave even a second thought to the truncated theological picture it implies? Once it becomes clear, in light of the parallel “translations”, that it was not, in fact, so difficult to express the fuller truth, one must wonder if those digital advocates would retract their unqualified support for what turns out to be a very poor version of the intended message. As I keep trying to make clear, thoughtless regurgitation of any “Christianese” cliche is not a fruit of the Spirit; it is a sign of the semiotic zombieism besetting as many souls in the Church as outside of it.

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.
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6 Responses to Insolite dictu…

  1. c matt says:

    So the lesson here is don’t trust the English tweets (and be wary of the English translators).

  2. Well, yes, unless reductionism is your thing, that is certainly one lesson. Sadly enough, it only confirms my sense that this pope is “not speaking to me.” If we OUGHT not trust what is reported from the pope in English, and yet must ALSO give it unflinching obediential devotion as docile sheep…. Perhaps you see the trouble. Over 3.6 million followers ought to just ignore what comes from @Pontifex? Is that part of “the New Evangelization”?

    BTW, I’ve added some opening quotations to clarify my larger worry.

  3. AmoPapam says:

    “It’s the translation!” The cry is often heard from enthusiasts, but evidently it helps paint a picture of a group within the curia who maybe, perhaps, don’t like the Holy Father, or the things that he says or is trying to do? One of my friends wrote in to the Catholic News Agency about a mis-translation which put Holy father in a negative light, and they corrected it the same day.

    Tweets don’t necessarily bother me, logging in at less than 140 characters, prone to misleading interpretations. It’s the larger ideas which are not mis-translations which usually catch my attention.

  4. Right, the linguistic politics going on beneath the surface are … intriguing. For instance, we have official Latin tweets but AFAIK still no official Latin version of Evangelium Gaudii. Wha? Also, as I mentioned, the tweets are generally some of the better fare. They give me hope in spite of the, as you put it, larger ideas.

  5. Dina says:

    Rykten gÃ¥r att Burre E frÃ¥n Likn¶Ãping U är pÃ¥ g att gÃ¥ till FKL/SYR, kanske dags att byta ut han ur coachen dÃ¥?

  6. By November 16, 2012 – 1:48 pmWhat a powerful message. It’s easy to be positive when things are going well, but there are times we are unable to feel anything but despair. I wish I had been stronger for others in my past. This would have been the perfect message.

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